Nicaragua operation rescues two endangered jaguar cubs

Masaya (Nicaragua) (AFP) –


When a post on social media exposed animal traffickers who planned to illegally sell two young jaguars abroad, Nicaragua zookeeper Eduardo Sacasa had a narrow chance to save the cubs.

The poachers -- who had already killed the young cats' mother -- were caught red-handed and agreed to hand the animals over, but under one condition.

They demanded Sacasa, director of Nicaragua's National Zoo, meet them in the Daukura region and pick up the cubs without bringing any authorities along.

So Sacasa flew to the Caribbean city of Bilwi, and then, with the help of four guides, traveled first by car and then up a river by boat to a village to meet the poachers and save the baby jaguars -- one of the most endangered species in Nicaragua.

"It's our passion to save these little animals that are in danger of extinction, they're killing them," he told AFP upon return to the capital city of Managua with the felines, a female and a three-month-old male.

"They're thin, they (the poachers) gave them cowhide to eat," Sacasa lamented. "They were going to sell them to a Chinese citizen after taking them to Honduras."

He explained that lately there have been wild animals roaming through human communities after hurricanes Eta and Iota in November destroyed their habitats.

The nervous little green-eyed predators on Wednesday arrived at the zoo south of Managua, where they will spend the next few days getting dewormed and undergoing medical examinations.

According to Sacasa, jaguars are among the most endangered species in Nicaragua, along with the tapir.

The zoo, which also houses an animal rescue center, is developing a breeding program for jaguars, which can live up to 25 years in captivity, but often do not make it past 10 in the wild, due to habitat destruction and illegal hunting, Sacasa explained.

In Nicaragua, jaguars, which are strong hunters capable of taking down even a crocodile in the water, mostly live in the forests along the Atlantic coast.

Jaguars, or panthera onca, are listed as "near threatened" on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species.