Endangered jaguar cubs find new home in Argentine national park

BUENOS AIRES, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Two jaguar cubs and their mother were set to be released into an Argentine national park Tuesday after a successful effort at breeding them in captivity to help protect the feline species from the threat of extinction.

Mother Mbarete is returning to Ibera National Park in Argentina's northeastern Corrientes province, this time with her cubs following eight months in the El Impenetrable National Park in Chaco, where she mated with their father.

The new cubs bring important genetic diversity to the population of 12 jaguars currently living in the park near Argentina's borders with Brazil and Paraguay.

The continent's largest cat, only 200-250 jaguars live in Argentina today, occupying just 5% of the territory they once roamed in.

Sebastian Di Martino, the director of conservation for the Rewilding Argentina Foundation, said it had been necessary to hold Mbarete in semi-captivity with a wild mate before relocating her.

It "is an extreme but essential action if we want to reverse the threat of extinction that weighs on the species," Di Martino said.

As a big predator, the jaguar plays a critical role in ensuring the wider ecosystem's health. But hunting, habitat fragmentation, malnutrition, and a reduction in prey have brought the species dangerously close to extinction.

The outlook is improving. Seventy years after jaguars disappeared from Ibera National Park, they are making a comeback thanks to efforts to prevent them from going extinct.

Two other jaguars - Nala and Takajay - born in 2021 in El Impenetrable National Park are also due to be released in the near future.

Reporting by Lucila Sigal, editing by Deepa Babington

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