Juan Castillo’s story: Harnessing the power of AI and community centered approaches to monitor Jaguars in the Yucatan Peninsula

This article is reposted courtesy of Panorama Solutions. Read the full solution here.

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.


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