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A novel item, black vultures (Coragyps atratus) used as food by a jaguar (Panthera onca) in Quintana Roo, Mexico.


The jaguar is considered an endangered species in Mexico (Secretaria del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, 2010) and near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN; Caso et al, 2008). Recently, it was suggested that only 16% of Mexican territory' is considered potential habitat for this species (Rodriguez-Soto et al., 2011). Mexican authorities consider jaguar conservation a national priority, with special emphasis in nonprotected areas where the potential of human-jaguar conflicts is more likely to arise, such as the areas located in the urban-wildland interface (Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas, 2009).

Jaguars are known to consume over 85 species, with terrestrial diurnal animals having a body mass >1 kg being the main prey items, though other mammals, birds and reptiles are also components of the jaguar diet (Da Silveira et al, 2010; Foster et al, 2010). In their natural preserved habitats of the tropical forests of the Yucatan Peninsula, jaguars depend on medium-sized prey such as armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) and large prey (>10 kg). In disturbed areas, within the same ecosystem, jaguars' diet changes towards more small wild prey complemented with domestic species such as cattle and Lo a lesser degree dogs (Foster et al. 2010). In general jaguars are considered to be opportunistic predators that vary their diet according to prey density and ease of capture (Oliveira, 2002; Polisar et al, 2003; Hernandez-San Martin et al, 2015). Seasonal fluctuations in prey availability often trigger temporary changes in individual jaguar ranging behavior and the exploitation of alternative prey species (Crawshaw and Quigley, 1991; Salom-Perez et al., 2007; Carrillo et al, 2009; Cavalcanti and Gese, 2010).

Interactions between jaguars with turkey (Calhartes aura) and black (Coragpys atratus) vultures are largely unknown, but they are likely to happen often around carcasses (either killed or scavenged by the jaguar). On most occasions jaguars might perceive vultures as a nuisance species at the kill site and scare them away (Ben-Shahar, 1999) in a similar fashion lo other big cats such as lions (Panthera lea) and leopards (Panthera pardus). Il is rare for big cats and carnivores to prey upon vultures (Campbell, 2015). Cruz and Giiiris (2011) reported turkey vulture remains in jaguar scats (at a low frequency 0.02% of the jaguar diet); however, it was not clear if the jaguar actually killed the vultures or just scavenged them. In addition, it was recently reported in one instance, a jaguar kill site identified by a cluster of GPS locations showed at least one vulture probably was preyed upon by a jaguar (Cassaigne et al., 2016).

Subsistence hunting by local inhabitants in the Yucatan Peninsula is concentrated in the surrounding areas of the human settlements (Santos-Fita et al. 2012), reducing the potential prey species availability for jaguars in these same areas. In these instances jaguars are expected to change their prey selection to alternative prey species, similar lo what occurs when habitat is disrupted by human activities (Foster et al., 2010). In the Playa del Carmen city area, jaguar attacks on house and feral dogs was reported recently and al least one jaguar was relocated by the federal government. It has been reported conflict persists and other jaguars are preying on dogs in the area (Remolina-Suarez, 2014). This behavior was attributed to the invasion of jaguar habitat by urban expansion of Playa del Carmen but also to the lack of natural prey species jaguars usually feed upon (Remolina-Suarez, 2014). Vultures are potential prey-species in the areas around human settlements, especially in human waste disposal areas where turkey and black vultures commonly occur (Inigo, 1999). Here we document, for the first time, the use of black vultures as a food item by a jaguar in the surrounding area of a landfill nearby Playa del Carmen city, Quintana Roo, Mexico.


Study area.---The study area is within the vicinities of Playa del Carmen city, Quintana Roo, Mexico. The area has a warm climate with annual mean temperatures between 26 C and 33 C and a mean annual precipitation of 1300 mm concentrated on the period from June to October. Dominant vegetation type is evergreen rainy tropical-forest with areas covered by secondary' growth with different succession stages, produced by the effect of hurricanes, forest fires, and urban expansion (Ellis et ai, 2015). Cattle grazing is limited in northeast Quintana Roo, consequently man-made induced grasslands for cattle grazing are almost absent in the region (Dupuy-Rada et al., 2007). Water for wildlife is scarce during the dry season with the only water sources being "cenotes": water holes resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. The region has numerous human populated areas, including the city of Playa del Carmen, which has a population of >150,000 (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Geografia, 2013) with an annual growth rate of 20% (Campos-Camara, 2007). The study area included the landfill of approximately 40 ha (20[degrees]41'34"N, 87[degrees]08'05"W) of Playa del Carmen city. The landfill is located 6 km outside of the city limits and it is embedded in a natural habitat matrix. Because the landfill is inside an area with natural vegetation, it is visited by a wide array of wild species, including mammals, such as raccoons (Procyon lotor), coaiis (Nasua narica), gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), and feral dogs, as well as birds including large numbers of vultures and herons (Bubulcus ibis; pers. obs.).

Jaguar capture and radio tracking.--With the aim of determining jaguar conservation measures in the surrounding area of a new highway development, a male jaguar (4 y old and weighting 50 kg) was captured with an Aldrich snare trap (Logan et ai, 1999) on 26 Jan. 2013, 12 km W from the outskirts of Playa del Carmen (see Gonzalez-Gallina et al, in press for detailed information about this particular jaguar). Capture and management followed the guidelines of the American Society of Mammalogists (Sikes et ai, 2011). The jaguar was tracked by use of a satellite collar (Vectronic GPS Plus Pro with Globalstar system and a Drop-off device) from Jan. 2013 to Mar. 2014. The collar was programmed to make and send a GPS location every 6 h.

Cenote survey and camera trapping.--After the collar was deployed on the jaguar to the end of Apr. of 2013, we noticed that in 105 locations the jaguar was using the edge of a cenote located ca. 500 m from the Playa del Carmen city landfill. These included an area where on 12 occasions jaguar recordings formed a location cluster in the southern portion of the cenote (i.e., the jaguar was located in an area of ca. 0.5 ha during four consecutive occasions). Jaguar location clusters are considered potential kill sites for jaguars and ground truthing is necessary to search for evidence of a kill (Cassaigne et ai, 2016; Gese et al., 2016). To determine what was attracting this jaguar to the cenote in May and Jim. 2013, we intensively search on two occasions for jaguar kill sites around die cenote and within the location cluster. On May 2013 we also set two camera traps (Guddeback Attack, Ltl Acorn 5210A) for 60 d on trails inside the location cluster. One of the cameras was placed on a trail heading to the cenote and the other 25 m away on the edge of the water of the cenote (20[degrees]43'8"N, 87[degrees]9'24"W). Due to safety concerns, we suspended trips to the cenote after the second visit to the area.


When we visited the cenote, we noticed that a flock of black vultures (>20 individuals) rested in the trees on the cenote's edge. We determined this flock of black vultures was using the area regularly by the large amount of droppings and feathers found on the area. The first time we searched for jaguar kill sites on the cenote, and within the jaguar location cluster, we found several dispersed bird bones on the area (likely black vulture). However, during the second visit (60 d later), we found fresh clumped remains (feathers and bones) of two black vultures as if killed by a mammal (Elbroch et ai, 2001). One of the remains was inside a shallow cave at ground level next to fresh jaguar tracks and a tree with jaguar claw marks at the water's edge. Other vulture remains were several meters away on the trail leading to water level. Due to this evidence, it was likely that both individuals were killed by a jaguar.

During the 60 d when the cameras operated, we obtained 24 GPS locations of the jaguar on the cenote area, including 12 occasions when the jaguar was using the southern portion of the cenote inside the location cluster previously identified. As a result of the photographic survey, we obtained nine photographs of the radio collared jaguar on different days, all of them on die camera located on the trail next to the cenote. In a picture taken on 24 Jun. at 0731 h, it was possible to observe the jaguar carrying a dead adult black vulture in its mouth (Fig. 1). We recognized the bird as a black vulture due to its body size, tail, and wing shape (Howell and Webb, 1995); die tail was short and square, barely reaching past the edge of the folded wings. We assume the black vulture is an adult due to comparative size with the jaguar and the black glossy plumage (Ferguson-Lee and Christie, 2006). In the picture it is not possible to determine whether the jaguar captured the vulture nesting, perching, or the jaguar was scavenging a dead vulture. Also, il is not possible to determine if this particular black vulture is one of the two vulture carcasses found as a mammal prey item inside the cave. The second camera trap took 10 photographs of black vultures basking and perching near the water. No other species were recorded on the camera (Fig. 2).

After the last visit to the area at the end of Jun. 2013, the jaguar was located on 43 occasions in the cenote until early Aug. 2013. From Aug. 2013 to mid-Jan. 2014, the jaguar was located only on two occasions around the cenote. However, from this date to the end of Mar., when the Drop-off system of the collar activated and the collar was retrieved, the jaguar had 56 GPS locations around the cenote forming a cluster on its southern portion.


The use of vultures as prey items by jaguars previously was reported as isolated events with vultures representing a very limited food resource for jaguars (Cruz and Guiris, 2011; Cassaigne el at, 2016). Our observations illustrate this jaguar can prey upon this species when conditions become favorable. The fact the jaguar is preying upon adult black vultures could be due to their availability and easy' capture. We observed in a photograph a male jaguar used at least one adult black Mill (ire as a prey item and there was a high probability that the jaguar fed on black vultures on at least two other occasions during the study period. The only other bird in the area with which the photograph could be confused, would be a male great curassow (Grax rubra, MacKinnon, 2005), a common prey item on jaguar diets (Foster et al., 2010). However, the specimen carried by the jaguar lacks the white belly and underparts on the base of the tail, its shape and length together with that of the legs clearly differing from that of a curassow.

The cenote was used by the black-vultures of the nearby landfill-dumpster as a roosting site. Novaes and Cintra (2013) found distance to feeding sites (mainly garbage-dumping sites) as the most significant covariate for vulture communal roosting sites. The landfill attracts great numbers of vultures that feed on waste before it is covered, making them an abundant potential prey for the jaguars. This is especially important in an area where, due to illegal hunting and Playa del Carmen city urban expansion, the abundance of other potential jaguar natural--prey species was largely reduced (Remolina-Suarez, 2014; pers. comm.). The lack of cattle in the area (Dupuy-Rada et al, 2007), commonly used as alternative prey by jaguars when the natural prey is scarce (Polisar et al., 2003), have forced jaguars in the area to shift their prey base to house dogs (Remolina-Suarez, 2014) and vultures.

Jaguars have a clear preference for live prey (Newsome et al., 2014), although jaguars occasionally feed on carrion (Lopez-Gonzalez and Lorenzana-Pina, 2002; Cassaigne et al., 2016). Even if it was possible the jaguar scavenged the photographed black vulture, as well as the other carcasses observed in the area, terrain conditions in the cenote that made water and a basking sites for vultures together with low perches inside the jaguar's core area, makes these organisms more accessible (Fig. 2). Considering the height at which vultures perch, is it less probable the vultures were captured while roosting.

There are several records of mammals (invasive mongooses, Herpestes auropundatus', Scott 1892; foxes, Vulpes sp, LWocyon sp., Howes, 1926; Grube, 1953; opossums, Didelphis marsupialis and domestic dogs, Jackson, 1983) preying on black vultures at all life stages at nests. Jaguars using adult black vultures outside of nesting areas as alternative prey, represent a new food source this species could adopt in suburban areas. As urban expansion continues, endangered species, such as jaguars, are more pressed to adapt. Under this scenario it is possible alternative behaviors will be recorded more often in the future.

Acknowledgments.--This paper was possible thanks to the financial support granted to Sistemas Estrategicos para la Gestion Ambiental SEGA S. A. de C.V. by Ingenieros Civiles Asociados from their Infraestructure division (ICAi) through Consorcio del Mavab, within the wildlife monitoring for the highway Project entitled "Ramales Cedral-Tintal, Tintal-Playa del Carmen con una longitud de 54 km en el estado de Quintana Roo, Mexico." The Division Academica de Ciencias Biologicas de la Universidad Juarez Autonoma de Tabasco (DACBiol UJAT), granted logistical support for the success of this Project. Capture, management and collaring of the jaguars was under the capture permit code SGPA/DGVS/ 9611/12 Oct. 15th of 2012 granted to Mircea Gabriel Hidalgo Mihart on behalf of the Direccion General de Vida Silvestre-SEMARNAT-Mexico. We thank to Erica Strand for revising this manuscript. We thank CONACYT for graduate studies scholarship number 335814/232663 awarded to A. Gonzalez Gallina who is studying at the Instituto de Ecologia A.C. (INECOL).

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ALBERIO GONZALEZ-GALLINA, Instituto de Ecologia A.C. Red de Ambiente v Sustentabilidad, Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico, 91070; FREDDY PEREZ-GARDUZA, Division Academica de Ciencias Biologicas, Universidad Juarez Autonoma de Tabasco, Villahermosa, Tabasco. Mexico 86039; JESUS A. IGLESIAS-HERNANDEZ, ADAN OLIVERAS-DE ITA, OCTAVIO VAZQUEZ-ZUNIGA, ANDRES CHACON-HERNANDEZ, Sistemas Estrategicos para la Gestion Ambiental SEGA, S.A. DE C.V., Del. Benito Juarez, Distrito Federal, Mexico 03230; and MIRCEA G. HIDALGO-MIHART, Division Academica de Ciencias Biologicas, Universidad Juarez Autonoma de Tabasco, Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico 86039. Submitted 19 August 2016; accepted 7 February 2017.

(1) Corresponding author present address: Division Academica de Ciencias Biologicas, Universidad Juarez Autonoma de Tabasco. Km 0.5 Carretera Villahermosa-Cardenas, Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico. CP 86039. e-mail:

Caption: Fig. 1.--Photograph of a jaguar (Panthera onca) carrying a dead adult black vulture (Coragyps atratus) in its mouth. Obtained by using a camera trap in Jun. 2013, near of the city of Playa del Carmen, Solidaridad, Quintana Roo. Mexico

Caption: Fig. 2.--Camera-trap photograph, taken J tin. 2013, of a group of adult black vultures (Coragyps atratus) on the ground next to the water of a cenote near of the city of Playa del Carmen, Solidaridad, Quintana Roo, Mexico. Photograph was taken 25 m from the place where we obtained the picture of a jaguar with a black vulture in its mouth
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Title Annotation:Notes and Discussion Piece
Author:Gonzalez-Gallina, Alberto; Perez-Garduza, Freddy; Iglesias-Hernandez, Jesus A.; Ita, Adan Oliveras-D
Publication:The American Midland Naturalist
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Jul 1, 2017
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