Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Jaguar Saga

We haven't heard any more reports of jaguar misdeeds over the past couple of nights, but today George from the Forestry Department drove into the area to interview people and assess the situation. Since we had submitted the report, he stopped here first, and then went to our neighbors' houses to talk to them. Tom went with him to our closest neighbors and said that they showed him photos of their mauled dog and the tracks around the dog, and George confirmed that it is a jaguar, and that a jaguar taking dogs is a problem. We don't know how far George got with his interviews today, but we'll post any new info as we get it.

Tom and I were talking, and we decided that George and the other "problem jaguar specialists" have an interesting job. We think it must be sort of like chasing ghosts. They hear about these happenings, and then have to go interview freaked-out people about something that could be very difficult to find. And the people are freaked out; Tom came back from our neighbors' this morning and said that all the women were yelling at George, telling him someone has to kill the jaguar, because it is going to come in their houses at night and eat their children. George told them that in the entire Jaguar Corridor, from the Southwestern US, through Mexico and Central America, and down into South America, only one death has been caused by a jaguar, and that was a unique situation. A man in Venezuela would go out into the jungle on a regular basis and take food to a jaguar. One day the man got drunk, went out into the jungle without any food, and fell asleep in the spot where he usually fed the jaguar. The jaguar came along and ate the man. That’s a somewhat horrifying story, but it’s a far cry from a jaguar breaking into people’s houses and eating their children at night. We were told we don’t understand because we don’t have children, but I have to wonder if some of this fear isn’t just handed down from generation to generation because the big threat parents use on their children is that if they don’t behave, El Tigre, the jaguar, will get them. If something is said often enough people start to think it’s true, and from what we’ve seen, that threat is used very frequently in this culture.

So, part of George’s job is to assess the situation and, if necessary, come up with a plan to trap the problem jaguar. The other, and probably larger, part of his job is to educate people so they don’t make themselves targets for a problem. They need to be told that the jaguar won’t hunt them or their families, but if they put calves or foals in open pens out in the bush, it’s pretty likely that a jaguar will make a meal of the young animal. They also need to be told that just running out into the jungle and shooting any jaguar they find probably won’t solve the problem, since multiple jaguars may be in one area, and there’s no guarantee hunters will find the right one. George gave us some brochures for farmers with recommendations on how to keep livestock from becoming jaguar prey, and he advises people to keep their pets contained at night. Tom and I have the attitude that this is something we have to deal with since we’re in the jaguar’s territory, but George said most people don’t have that attitude, and they just want to get rid of the cats from around where they live. We certainly don’t envy George and the others that part of their job, but in other ways, it’s rewarding because they get to see and study the animals. And, we wonder if the animals are studying them because George told us that on his way here today, he saw a young black jaguar cross the road – something most Belizeans never see!

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