Monkey Forest Tales:   Celebrating the biggest cat in South America: Jaguar

This week we celebrate Jaguar, a day to raise awareness for one of the three biggest wild cats in the world, after tiger and lions. And the biggest cat in South America. I had the fortune of had seen this wonderful animal two times in two different areas of Colombia: transition area between Orinoquia and Amazonian region and in the Amazon basin. At Las Pampas landscape, in the study area, we only had been able to find tracks and footprints, but not sightings of this impressive animal.

My first time was the more impressive and memorable time. In the following section I will describe this encounter and my feelings and perceptions of that encounter:

“It was a cold morning, I woke up early as I had done for the last month or so, I was ready to follow the group of red howler monkeys. It was like any other morning in the jungle. I woke up around 5 am and dress up in my long black pants, rubber boots and long sleeve shirt that belonged to my father. Prepare my coffee and my cup of cereal. Last night I made part of my lunch ready, white rice. I added some tuna with small pieces of fresh tomato. It was one of my favorites. It was rare to have fresh tomato, but the vegetables had arrived just a few days before and there were still fresh.

After taking my breakfast and packing my lunch and water, I was ready to go and find the red howler group that I was studying. The day before, the group went to sleep in a dense vine area around 500 m from the camp towards south. The trail goes from the campsite up to a hill and then down to a small stream valley.

I started to walk, that hill always take me some time, I always had respiratory problems and that hill always make me wonder why I choose to follow monkeys in a hilly area of the jungle. Well, maybe it was because of the challenge. I had always liked to challenge my own limits, especially my body limits and every hill was that, a challenge, a test to my weak lungs.

Once on the top of the hill, I stopped to recover my breath, when I saw a dark shadow walking towards me, I wasn’t sure at first what was I looking at. Then very slowly I realized it was a Jaguar, a big one, with his wide head, strong legs and soft fur. I couldn’t believe what I was looking. The jaguar didn’t stop walking towards me, he didn’t notice me staring at him, just a few meters ahead. Suddenly, he stops, look at me and start moving his tail from one side to the other. It was like a pendulum.

My mind was hypnotized by his tail movement, I was thinking how it will feel to touch him, his soft fur seems to be like a hypnotic element to her. Part of my brain, the rational one, make me stop that idea. He was just looking deep into my eyes. I felt naked, but not the naked feeling of not having your cloths on, not that one. A naked feeling deep in your soul, as if some kind of X ray were passing through me and were showing him every part of my body and soul, both at the same time. It was a mesmerizing moment.

I didn’t know how long this encounter last it, but it was profound, and it has a huge impact in my life and my day. After what it looks like ten minutes, maybe less, that magic connection just broke. The jaguar jumps to my right side and disappear into the jungle. I took a couple of minutes to process what just happen and continue my walk towards the place where I found my group of monkeys. I followed the group taking notes of the babies and their mothers’ behavior without thinking too much on my morning encounter.

At some points during the day, I felt as if someone was looking at me, the group has been hiding in a dense vine area for days, sleeping long hours and eating mostly leaves. I wondered if the jaguar had followed me. If he did, he had an advantage I was in a place difficult to get out, surrounded by vines with thorns.

Despite my feeling of being observed the whole day, nothing happens, and I finished my day around 5 pm, leaving my study group next to the stream in some Guadua trees. I started my way back to the camp site and when I was close to the camp, I hear the howlers, my group, vocalizing. I thought again about the jaguar and my feeling of being observed the whole day but try not to be afraid for the monkeys.”

My second time lasted less time and it felt like looking to a fast-moving film, with a couple of shadows moving some meters in front of me and the indigenous guide who was with me.

Jaguar presence in Zocay Project study area had been confirmed only in the biggest forest fragments of the whole area in Las Pampas landscape. There are a few reports of cattle attacked by Jaguar and Cougar in the area. However it seems despite of the fragmentation in the area they are still able to survive, at least in parts of the area where there is native preys available.

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