Professor to Explore Relationship between Jaguars, Miners in Amazon

Dr. Anthony Cummings

Dr. Anthony Cummings

Dr. Anthony Cummings was in the third year of his doctoral work, studying multiple-use plant species in Guyana’s part of the Amazon basin, when he came into contact with a Guyanese gold miner. 

The man gave Cummings a disc with photographs showing the man and his fellow miners capturing and, a few days later, killing a jaguar. 

“I was really upset by this because all of a sudden my mind began to think of larger, multinational corporations that come into Guyana for gold,” said Cummings, a geospatial scientist and an assistant professor in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences. “Here was a small- to medium-scale gold miner demonstrating the kinds of impacts he could have on environmental processes.” 

Cummings recently received a grant from the National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative to fund a trip this winter to Guyana, where he will explore the relationship between jaguars and gold miners.

Gold mining in Guyana grew tremendously after the global economy crisis in 2008, Cummings said. Gold prices reached record highs, and lower risks incentivized more people to invest in the precious metal. 

He said most people do not realize the lasting impacts gold mining has on the environment. 

The jaguar, the national animal of Guyana, is considered a surrogate species, Cummings said. If the animals are seen in the rain forests, it generally means everything is OK in the environment; there are enough rodents, such as agoutis and pacas, and deer in the ecosystem to support the jaguar population. 

About Dr. Anthony Cummings

Cummings was born in Wauna, a village about 10 miles from the Guyana-Venezuela border. He was raised among indigenous people, primarily members of the Arawak and Carib tribes.

During his undergraduate work at the University of Guyana, he worked with Conservation International to gauge the views of indigenous people of southern Guyana on the creation of a protected area adjacent to their homelands.

He holds master’s degrees from the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill in Barbados and the University of Cambridge in the U.K. He earned his PhD in geography at Syracuse University.

He came to UT Dallas last year as a visiting assistant professor.

If jaguars are removed through human activity, the question then arises, “What else is being impacted?” 

Cummings wants to see whether there is any correlation between the 2008 economic crisis and the number of jaguars killed in Guyana. In other words, with more gold miners pushing into the frontier, are more jaguars being killed? 

“There’s this cliché that we use all the time that tropical forests are the lungs of the world,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount of truth to that because tropical forests store carbon in their biomass. You remove forests, and that carbon has to go someplace, which impacts our ability to live on the planet. 

“It’s a tricky situation. You want more gold, you’re going to remove forests to get that gold, and as a consequence you’re going to trigger human well-being issues.” 

During his three weeks in Guyana, Cummings will examine the rates of incidents in which humans kill and capture jaguars and jaguars kill humans. 

He aims to identify stakeholders in the interactions, determine whether there is an issue and then plan a discussion of how to remove jaguars from harm’s way and educate gold miners to protect the animals. 

Cummings will speak with gold miners, foresters and managers in the capital, Georgetown, and in various gold-mining hotspots in the country. He’ll also talk with indigenous people who live in areas where the presence of gold miners is high.

Cummings said he prefers being “on the ground” and spending time with the indigenous people, as opposed to conducting formal surveys or group discussions. Trying to understand how indigenous people think about issues drives his work. 

“If I do something, how is to going to affect them and their livelihood? This is a question I’m always aware of in what I do,” he said. 

“Even though jaguars seem like they’re far removed from indigenous people and their livelihoods, the process that leads to the jaguar being endangered will also lead to traditional practices of indigenous people being endangered. There’s a very strong connection there.” 

Cummings aims to develop a bigger project that would become part of an effort to prevent  jaguars from becoming endangered in Guyana.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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