(Wild) Caturday

A Million-Mile Freeway for the
Jaguar, Amazon’s Shadowy Lord

The mythology of many pre-Columbian societies regard the jaguar both as the Guardian of the Forest and the Keeper of the Underworld. For the native peoples of the jungle, the largest cat of the Western Hemisphere has always been a mysterious creature, associated with death and renewal.
There’s even an old shamanic folktale that portrays the jaguar as a purifier, a character who’s capable of “devouring negative energies of anger, fear and grief.” He’s also the one entrusted with the task of easing your soul into its voyage to the great beyond.
That quality seems to still ring true to this day, as anyone who happens upon this phantom rarely comes back to tell the story. So elusive is this creature that many researchers dedicated to study them rarely have a chance to see one of them up close in the wild.

Now Panthera, a wild cat conservation organization, has conceived the Jaguar Corridor Initiative to connect 90 distinct populations of this wide-ranging predator across the Americas. The project has identified 182 potential corridors covering nearly a million square miles, spanning 18 nations and two continents.
Colombia, Mexico and most Central American nations have already signed on to the initiative, and more countries are expected to do the same as well. But there are, obviously, many obstacles.
Vast expansions of the jaguar’s natural habitat have already been devastated by deforestation, growing human presence, drug and weapons trafficking and trade deep within the jungle and other social, political and economic issues that also come into play.
Despite a previous assumption by biologists that there were at least eight subspecies of jaguar, DNA from blood and tissue samples collected throughout the Americas has determined that no single group has split off.
Which means that jaguars travel great distances to breed with each other, from Mexico’s deserts to the Pampas of Argentina, even swimming across the Panama Canal. This fact alone, crucial for their survival, makes the cats utterly vulnerable to a wide array of natural enemies.
Then again, that’s exactly why the corridor project, with its far-reaching concept and clear awareness of what’s necessary to guarantee the species’ survival, may just work, given proper time.
Besides, delimiting physical routes where the onça, or pantera, as the jaguar is known throughout Latin America, navigates may sound daunting, but it’s not impossible for an animal whose first depictions by humans date back to the Olmec civilization in 1150 B.C.E.
His well-storied mythical abilities are present in the oral tradition of the Aztecs, the Mayas, the 15th century Moxos indians of Bolivia, the Tupy Guarani of Brazil and many others.
Unlike tigers and other African wildlife, avidly pursued in Asian black markets for their bones, teeth, skin and pretty much everything else, jaguars are no longer prized by poachers, twisted collectors and hunters as they were in the 1970s, when trade of their pelts was banned.
As GPS radio-transmitter technology helps track the movement of these big cats throughout the Americas, more is being learned about their (mostly nocturnal) habits. A recent World Wildlife Fund study, for example, concluded that female jaguars frequently follow a pattern of foraging along rivers.

Researchers used the device for the first time in the Amazon to follow Paya, a female living in the Tambopata National Reserve in southeastern Peru. Paya rarely strayed more than a mile away from the banks of the Tambopata River, but traveled more than 27 miles along its course. She also frequently crossed the river, which required swimming hundreds of feet through swiftly flowing currents.
Males, however, roam much farther, though they regularly return to the females’ territory, perhaps to assess reproductive opportunity, according to the study. The implications of these findings underline the importance of protecting long stretches of rivers for jaguar populations.
The biggest challenge is, of course, human development in the Amazon basin. While rivers are used for transportation, the surrounding environment is severely impacted by mining and other economic activities. That includes the soil in the banks, which the study showed, is an important source of fish for the female jaguars who frequently forage along rivers.
Thus the real threat to the survival of jaguars as a species is represented by, you guessed, man. And they’re not alone in this plight, as even the native communities sharing their habitat also face threats to their own survival in the hands of the common ‘super predator,’ yours truly.
From deforestation wrecking their territory, to population growth, to scarcity of natural resources, the dangers are real and present, as is the risk of ending this post with the understated cliche of the century. So let’s find a better coda.
That comes from a different folktale, about yet another surprising trait attributed to jaguars: their pioneering culinary skills. Which also sheds some light on the reason why people have always feared an impending onslaught of wrath from the jaguar, and the ferocious feline’s own preferred dwelling lifestyle, in hidden corners of the jungle. .
According to the tale, there was a time when jaguars were the ones used to eat their meat cooked, not people, who were still eating theirs raw.
So once, a jaguar took pity seeing a hungry man on the road and not just took him in, but also shared his grilled meat with him, and taught him to hunt with bows and arrows.
But alas, for who knows how long it takes before man shows his real teeth, the treacherous biped repaid the charitable cat by killing his wife and stealing his fire.
Since then, man has wisely developed a healthy fear of the jaguar’s wrath, as the cat’s shadowy existence may be a sign that he still shelters some vengeful murderous intent.
Even those supernatural attributes may be a natural consequence of the spotted cat’s wariness of the moral wretchedness of man.

One thought on “(Wild) Caturday

  1. xandimusic says:

    great photos, but we should stop destroying the Amazonas and other rain forests 🙂


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