Way Cleared for "Path of the Jaguar"

Nicaragua has become the first nation to establish part of a proposed 1900-kilometer-long corridor of wildlife habitat in Central America. Yesterday, President Arnoldo Aleman signed a $7.1 million funding agreement with the World Bank's Global Environment Facility to set up wildlife parks along a 320-kilometer portion of eastern Nicaragua.

In recent years, biologists have argued that the best way to save species that need large territories, such as the endangered jaguar, is to connect existing parks and other large environmental reserves with protected corridors that would allow the animals to move back and forth. But creating such corridors has proved difficult because many nations must agree to let these wildlife highways cross their borders. To make matters worse, intact habitat has been shrinking as farming and other human activities have fragmented forests and other natural areas.

The new agreement between Nicaragua and the World Bank will provide funds for the first phase of the proposed Central American corridor--also known as the Paseo Pantera, or Path of the Jaguar--that would ultimately stretch all the way from Mexico to Colombia. Following the World Bank's lead, several international donors will now release an additional $23.4 million of aid they pledged for the corridor. These funds will not only pay for parks, but also for community planning, education, and sustainable economic development that will relieve human pressure on wildlife.

"It's a good day for conservation and economic development," says Archie Carr III, of the Wildlife Conservation Society's office in Gainesville, Florida. "This agreement will help protect one of the biggest links in the proposed corridor system." Over the next year, World Bank officials hope to expand the corridor by signing similar agreements with Honduras, Panama, and Guatemala.