Harnessing the power of AI and community centered approaches to monitor Jaguars in the Yucatan Peninsula

Tech4Nature Mexico
Published: 22 September 2022
Last edited: 14 December 2022
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The Yucatan Peninsula, located in the southeast of Mexico, has a great diversity of ecosystems ranging from tropical rainforests to coral reefs, petenes, mangroves, dunes, cenotes, and ojos de agua, coastal lagoons, caves and subway rivers, among others. It is also home to the most important jaguar population in the country. 


Tech4Nature Mexico is reinforcing effective monitoring practices for the conservation of the jaguar and its prey, as well as strengthening the understanding of the effects of climate change in priority ecosystems on the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula through the installation of an integral monitoring system consisting of a network of camera traps and the development of open algorithms to detect and identify jaguars.


Scale of implementation
Coastal forest
Forest ecosystems
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Rangeland / Pasture
Tropical deciduous forest
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Connectivity / transboundary conservation
Ecosystem services
Indigenous people
Local actors
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Science and research
Species management
Species Conservation and One Health Interventions
Species Monitoring and Research
Species Conservation Planning
One Health
Animal health
Biodiversity-health nexus
Good governance of landscapes
Loss of Biodiversity
Ecosystem loss
Sustainable development goals
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Business engagement approach
Direct engagement with a company
Direct engagement with associations


Dzilam de Bravo, Dzilam de Bravo Municipality, Yucatán 97606, Mexico
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The ecosystems of the Yucatan Peninsula are undergoing rapid deterioration due to human activities and climate change, as almost 80% of the rainforests are disturbed and only 22% of its territorial extension is covered by mature vegetation, mainly concentrated in natural protected areas.


Illegal hunting and jaguar trafficking have also been reported in the Yucatan Peninsula.  The causes are diverse, ranging from hunting derived from jaguar encounters with agricultural land and the demand for a national and international market.


The main challenges for the area are:

  • Land-use change

  • Biodiversity loss

  • Area vulnerability to extreme weather events (hurricanes, flooding, forest fires)


Local government institutions, local community, AI and data practitioners and students, academic institutions, local environmental organizations.

How do the building blocks interact?

Jaguars are species that move many kilometers. The algorithm opens up the possibility of identifying patterns of movement of individuals. This type of monitoring collects more data that are valuable in combination with the algorithm (data, other species identified, seasonal and climatic factors).The correlation between these data is being analyzed to better understand the biological and ecological patterns of important species in the area, as well as potential threats, and to make comparisons between different climatic seasons.


Moreover, the participation of the communities in decision making and data management is fundamental to accelerate monitoring and conservation actions in the reserve.


Furthermore, the entire project is accompanied by the development of a strategy to inform the creation of evidence-based public policy for biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, following a human rights-centered approach and fostering the ethical use of advanced technologies. Finally, the project is boosting the involvement of university students and talent building.


Nearly 20 camera traps were strategically deployed in three types of ecosystems (mangroves, low deciduous forest and savannah) in areas where signs of presence and/or transit of jaguars and their prey have been identified in close collaboration with the local community and experts from the Secretariat of Sustainable Development.


The system identified 710 photos with vertebrates and identified 49 different species of birds, mammals and reptiles from a database of over 19,700 images.

  • Photos currently collected: ~19,700

  • Ecosystems covered: 3 (mangroves, jungle and savannah). 

  • Land area covered: 19,140 km. 

  • Number of jaguars identified: 5 (two males, one female and two cubs of unidentified sex)

  • Number of photos with identified animals: 710

  • Number of species detected (video only, acoustic analysis in progress): 49 vertebrates including birds, mammals and reptiles.


The images database has over 5,000 jaguar images that were used to train the algorithm to guarantee accuracy and mitigate potential bias.

This monitoring system and the collaboration with the local community is allowing us to understand the changes in the ecosystem caused by the increased incidence and strength of extreme events and floods caused by climate change and enhancing the protection of endangered species in the area.


Tech4Nature Mexico

The Dzilam State Reserve was declared a natural protected area in January 1989, and a proposed management plan, an annual operating program, and a vigilance body were created, which was unprecedented in the history of conservation in Mexico at that time. However, due to multiple factors, the management program was never published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the State of Yucatan. Since that time, the reserve's management strategies have been based on the principle that caring for nature must go hand in hand with guaranteeing the well-being of its inhabitants.


However, the agricultural strip has grown towards the reserve, causing the displacement of large mammal species, which is possibly the main cause of the mortality and decline of big cat populations, such as the jaguar, because the predators frequently conflict with human interests when they attack domestic animals, particularly livestock.


Juan Castillo grew up in a family of nomads who moved through the jungle long before it was declared a reserve. His family settled near bodies of water and survived by hunting, farming and raising cattle. Juan grew accustomed to the belief that if a jaguar tried to kill the cattle, you had to defend the cattle and kill the jaguar.


As he grew older, he realized that all along, he and his family were the ones invading the jaguar's home and feeding on his food, not the other way around. He removed all his cattle from the reserve, and moved to the city.


Juan raised a family and is now a grandfather. His grandchildren share with him their love for nature and understand that these species are more valuable alive than dead for the survival of the forest, of all the species that live there, and therefore of the people.


Today, Juan is determined to donate his land for conservation, which, despite being within the reserve, belongs to him. He, along with his partner Benjamin, also a former hunter, are top guides, explorers and advocates for the conservation of the jaguar and its prey, as well as the rainforest and the mangroves; they make sure to take care of the camera traps and acoustic monitoring devices (and making sure everyone makes it outside safe and sound) inside the reserve within the Teceh4Nature Mexico project.

Contributed by

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Regina Cervera C Minds