It’s been 70 years since jaguars left their round, four-toed footprints in the ground of the Iberá Wetlands, a 1.3-million-hectare (3.2-million-acre) tract of swamps, waterways and islands in northeastern Argentina’s Corrientes province. But things are changing now.

Two weeks ago, conservationists opened up a pen that held two 4-month-old jaguar cubs, Karai and Porã, and their mother, Mariua, giving them free and open access to Gran Iberá Park, a 709,717-hectare (1.75-million-acre) park established in 2018 by the NGO Tompkins Conservation. This release is part of a grand scheme to rewild the Iberá Wetlands by reinstating several species, including the jaguar (Panthera onca), which was driven to local extinction due to hunting and habitat loss.

Sebastian di Martino, conservation director at Fundación Rewildling Argentina, an NGO that works in collaboration with Tompkins Conservation, the Argentine government, Argentina’s national parks agency, and the Corrientes provincial government, said the release of the jaguars is the result of 10 years of hard work.

“For us, it is incredible … seeing these animals leaving the pen in the video and leaving their footprints in the middle of the Iberá Wetlands,” di Martino told Mongabay in an interview. “We’ve had the opportunity to spot them twice already, free [in the park]. It’s an incredible accomplishment for us.”

Jaguar populations used to sprawl across the Americas, ranging from the southwestern United States all the way down to Patagonia in southern Argentina. But the species, which is classified as near threatened by the IUCN, has been eradicated from 40% of its original range due to habitat loss and fragmentation, hunting, and human-wildlife conflicts […]

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