Saving Jaguars, Tigers Can Prevent Human Diseases?

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Cat experts from Panthera will teach at the hospital, and medical students will have opportunities to administer health care in parts of the world where humans and wildlife often live under an uneasy truce.

A major goal of the new program is to give students a deeper understanding about the links between animal and human diseases, said Mary Klotman, director of Mount Sinai's Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute.

"I think what we're doing is to try and introduce the concept more broadly into medical education," Klotman said, "so that it's not just the high-level investigators that understand this interaction."

Jaguar Network

Armed with this unique training, the program's doctor-conservationists will be providing an incentive for local people to tolerate jaguars, Panthera's Rabinowitz said.

"Almost all of the local communities that we interview and ask, What do you need?, two of the top answers have been, Better education for my children and better health for my family," he said.

"The affiliation with Mount Sinai helps with the health part."

The work should boost efforts to establish so-called genetic corridors, paths of sheltered habitat that cross through human-populated areas to connect existing wildlife preserves. (Read more about creating safe passage for jaguars in National Geographic magazine.)

Panthera's Jaguar Corridor Initiative would link approximately 90 distinct jaguar populations through a network of paths in Central and South America.

The organizations Tiger Corridor Initiative will attempt to do the same thing in Southeast Asia.

"A genetic corridor can look like a complete human landscape," Rabinowitz said.

"But if one jaguar or tiger can make it through that landscape to the next viable population, that single animal is enough to maintain the genetic diversity of the species as a whole."

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