FORTALEZA, Brazil — Ranchers in the Brazilian Amazon are threatening to poison jaguars and pumas attacking their livestock, after the elusive big cats' habitat was destroyed by a nearby dam.

The farmers in Rondônia state say the big cats have invaded their properties since construction began on Jirau dam, one of two controversial hydroelectric projects recently approved on the Madeira River, a major Amazon tributary.

They believe the animals are fleeing the deforestation caused by the construction of the dam and preparations for flooding around 250 square kilometers of forest upstream.

"I've lost 10 sheep since November," landowner Almino Brasil told the online newspaper Tudorondonia.

Another rancher, requesting anonymity, said, "It's clear there was a huge mistake in the environmental handling of this dam. Before clearing the forest, they should have moved the jaguars to some wildlife reserve.

"But what did they do? Just put down their chainsaws in the habitat of these animals — they had no alternative except to seek refuge and food in the properties of the region.

"The fact is that before the dam, we did not have this problem around here."

Wary of attracting attention by shooting the cats, a group of ranchers in the region is reported to be planning to exterminate the jaguars and pumas using poison.

Almino Brasil does not approve of the drastic solution being proposed by some fellow landowners, but he understands it.

"The jaguar is being molested in its own habitat and invading ranches and killing animals is just instinctive," he said. "But the reaction of rural landowners is understandable, even if it is disproportionate. They are suffering damage and in some cases, they are having their livelihoods threatened by these creatures."

Ingrid Eder, Brazil campaign manager for the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), told OurAmazingPlanet: "WSPA condemns this attitude. The habitat of the jaguars was destroyed, and they are only going onto the farms to hunt because they have no other way of getting food."

And the problem isn't limited to the region around this particular dam.

"This situation is happening in various regions of the country, where big cats end up hunting domestic animals for their survival, due to loss of their natural habitat," Eder said.

Eder suggested a solution: "One way of remedying the problem is to compensate the farmers – the company could buy each animal killed by the jaguars, so the farmers would not suffer any loss."

The normally elusive jaguar, Pantheraonca, is the largest member of the cat family in the Americas. Although it has a very wide range, stretching from Mexico to Argentina, much of its habitat has been severely fragmented and the species is classified as near-threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The Amazon is its last major stronghold.

The puma or cougar, Puma concolor, is found throughout the Americas and is not of conservation concern.

The Jirau and São Antonio dams on the Madeira River were approved by the Brazilian government amid huge controversy between 2007 and 2009. Brazil's upstream neighbor, Bolivia, has expressed concern about possible impacts on the river and its resources. The dams will start generating electricity next year.

This article was reprinted with permission from OurAmazingPlanet.

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