The term "carnivores" does not necessarily mean that these animals only eat meat, but rather it is a way to classify them. They are animals of different sizes and shapes and are adapted to find, capture and kill their prey. They are essentially solitary, although sometimes they can be seen in pairs when they are in the breeding season. Their diet varies a lot. Some eat only meat while others eat insects and fruits. Most carnivores are opportunistic, that is, they feed on whatever they find and can hunt safely. Those that are strictly carnivorous, such as jaguars for example, are generally found in very low densities, while those with a wider diet are more numerous. In Tiputini there are 10 species of carnivores that belong to 4 families.
Within the group of carnivores, felids are a group that has aroused significant interest for conservation efforts. They are particularly difficult to study because of their nocturnal and elusive habits and it is very difficult to assess their status and establish necessary protection and conservation measures if their ecology is not known. The felines are the great predators of the forests. Most are lone hunters and are active at night.
Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis)
Ocelots are among the most fascinating creatures that inhabit the new world. They are medium-sized felines that have a wide geographic range; they live in all of America from the south to the US-Mexico border, except in Chile. They live in a variety of ecosystems, ranging from the tropical forests of Mexico to the thorny dry forests of Venezuela. They also inhabit mountainous areas of Colombia, Ecuador and northern Peru. In Ecuador the ocelots are found in the Coast, the Amazon and the foothills of the Andes. They live in tropical and subtropical forests, between 0 and 1500 meters of altitude. They are carnivorous animals and feed on a wide variety of animals such as small deer, armadillos, sloths, mice, iguanas, snakes, turtles, frogs, crabs, beetles and some birds.
Historically, since the time of the Aztec civilization, ocelots have been hunted in large numbers mainly because of their skin. It is estimated that from the early 60's until the mid-70's around 200,000 ocelots were slaughtered each year (more than any other spotted feline species in the world), which caused worrying declines in their natural populations through their range of life. In Ecuador, there is information that the hunting of this feline was popular since the 1930s. Since the early 80's, certain protective measures have led to a reduction in the demand for ocelot skins, although they are still hunted by some ignorant people. In our project, ocelots are the felines that we have photographed the most, and we have identified more than 50 different individuals, almost all of them active at night.
Jaguar (Panthera onca)
The Jaguar is the largest feline in America and the third largest in the world (after tigers and lions). They live in a wide variety of habitats such as tropical forests, mangroves, montane forest, savannas and dry forests. They can weigh 300 pounds and feed on peccaries, deer and other mammals. Typically they are yellow, with round black spots called "rosettes". They can also be black and then they known as "panthers". They are active day and night. Sometimes, when the river is low and its a sunny day, you can see them on the beaches resting. Of course, mostly in places where there is no hunting.
Its original distribution extended from the south of the United States to the south of Argentina, although today its habitat has decreased considerably due to indiscriminate hunting, loss and fragmentation of habitat and lack of food. It is estimated that the continuous loss of habitat has reduced the historical occupation range of the jaguar by more than 50% since 1900, which is why it is currently considered as a threatened species in a large part of its home-range. They are already extinct in El Salvador and Uruguay. This is not uncommon, because in the 60s and 70s the jaguars were hunted without mercy.
It is estimated that no less than 18,000 jaguars were killed each year for their fur, until at last an attempt was made to stop the jaguar trade in 1973. Jaguars occupy vast expanses of forest that often extend beyond the boundaries of an area protected because they require a variety of habitats for their subsistence.
Many populations of jaguars coexist with humans and their activities. However, the continued conversion of land for agriculture, livestock and human settlements has led to jaguars and humans entering into indirect conflict. The jaguars are victims of intolerance and are generally killed for eating the cattle, but in reality they are forced to do so since their natural prey have been over-exploited. If they take away their forest and their food, what do they expect them to eat? You must be a very ignorant person to kill one of these majestic animals. Even so, there are records in Brazil of a single area of farms where between 2002 and 2004 they killed between 185 and 240 jaguars and pumas. Although they are legally protected (at least on paper), many people see them as a threat to their livestock and family.
There is nothing like seeing a free Jaguar in its natural habitat. Fortunately, in Yasuní and Tiputini there is apparently a good population of jaguars that live free in their forest without anyone killing or bothering them. With trap cameras, we have obtained very interesting data from hundreds of photographs, which makes us think that, somehow, Yasuní is a "Hot Spot" for jaguars ("Hot Spot" refers to a place where there is a high concentration of biodiversity). (For more information, see Publications section)
By looking at the pattern in the coat of ocelots and jaguars we can identify individuals. We develop a capture history (photographic, of course) of each individual, so we know what individuals are present, when, where and in what type of forest they are. With good photos this is not very difficult, although it does require some practice. With the history of each individual it is possible to obtain a lot of important information and estimate how many individuals there are, how they use their territory and many other things.
Here is an example. Sometimes, at first glance, jaguars may look different because the shape of their body is not the same. But if we see the spots we realize that they are actually the same individual. The same with ocelots, although they have other types of spots that are a bit more difficult to tell apart.
Puma (Puma concolor)
Pumas (or cougars) have the largest geographic range of any mammal in the Western Hemisphere. They live from Canada, through the USA and Central America to the northern part of Chile in South America, that is, they live in 28 countries! They inhabit almost all types of forests, as well as lowlands and deserts. And of course, they also live in the Amazon and in Tiputini. Like almost all felines in the world (except domestic cats), they face serious threats to their survival. The loss and fragmentation of habitats and the indiscriminate hunting of their natural prey by humans has increased forced them to attack domestic livestock.
This means that, like the jaguars and ocelots, the cattlemen and peasants kill them. It is also hunted in many places for sheer pleasure. Pumas have a varied diet and can be fed carrion in places where prey is very scarce and competition is high.Pumas, and carnivores in general, are very important for the functioning of natural ecosystems because they maintain the balance of natural populations of prey. If there are Pumas, that means almost always that there is presence and abundance of prey, which makes them good indicators of the health of an ecosystem. What they eat depends on where they live. A puma in the Amazon does not eat the same as a puma in the mountains of Wyoming! That's why sometimes their body size varies.
Jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi)
Like pumas, jaguarundis do not have spots on their skin and that is why it is very difficult to identify them individually. Its coloration, however, varies a lot. They can be dark brown to grayish in color. They travel great distances both in the day and in the night and have wide ranges of life. Apparently, they do not travel much on man-made trails but prefer dense forests.
There are only two species of dogs that inhabit the Amazon, and both are extremely rare and unknown.
Short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis)
Mainly diurnal and solitary. This is the dog that we have been able to photograph the most, including a lactating female in a photograph. This canid has a restricted range to South America and is only found in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela and Brazil. They prefer to live in slightly altered places and near rivers, since apparently their diet is based on fish, although they also feed on insects, small mammals and even some fruits and vegetable fibers.
Bush dog (Speothus venaticus)
The bush dog is also mainly diurnal. It usually lives nearby water sources and is thought to hunt in groups. They are very little studied animals and although it is believed that they live in large areas, they have always been scarce, whether there are impacts or not. We have only two photos, which means that it is quite rare and that a substantial effort is required to capture it in the cameras. The fact that we have few photos is not unusual. There are biologists who have spent a lot of time in the jungle and have never seen it.
The fact that they are so rare, that they are threatened and the almost total absence of studies on them makes any available information of vital importance to understand their basic ecology and thus be able to understand how the threats affect them. For now the most important thing is to protect their habitat.
Raccoons, coatis and more
The procyonids include the coatis, kinkajous and raccoons. The members of this family are very good climbers. In Tiputini there are 4 species, but we have only captured 2 with our cameras.
The crab-eating raccoon (Procyon cancrivorus) is nocturnal, terrestrial and apparently always passes near water sources such as small rivers and swamps because its diet is based on crabs, shrimp and fish.
The coatis (Nasua nasua), locally called "cuchuchos", are diurnal, terrestrial and also arboreal. The males are often solitary, but the juveniles and the females can walk through the forest in large groups, of more than 20 individuals. The other two species that are in Yasuní are the olingos (Bassaricyon alleni) and the kinkajous (Potos flavus), but since they are mainly arboreal and our cameras are at ground level, we could not photograph them. Yet!
Tayras, Otters and more
The mustelids (the last family) have long bodies and short legs. Although there are 5 species in Tiputini, we have only been able to photograph one with our cameras: the tayra (Eira barbara) . They feed on small vertebrates and can move long distances, alone or in pairs. Other species seen in Tiputini, although not as often, are the giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), Neotropical otter (Lontra longicauda), greater grison (Galictis vittata) and the tropical weasel (Mustela frenata).