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#407969 - 05/17/11 08:52 AM Tips for jaguar spotting in Belize
Marty Offline
Jaguar xing

I’M WALKING THE TRAILS of Cockscomb National Park, dense rainforest to the right, a river with crocodiles to the left. My guide, Sam, tells me the trail we’re on is often used by jaguars as an easy path through the forest. He points to a paw print in the mud to confirm the presence of the big cats.

“Don’t worry,” he says, “it’s very unlikely you’ll be killed by a jaguar today.”

“Sure,” I reply, “just a little mauling.”

Belize’s Cockscomb is the only jaguar preserve in the world, 150 square miles of protected rainforest that shelters 200 of the endangered animals. Other species benefit from the preserve as well, including tapir, peccary, toucans, and howler monkeys.

“How about a hike to Victoria Peak?” Sam asks, clearly teasing. Victoria is the highest point in Belize and requires a permit and a four-day trek under the best conditions.

“Let’s just look for jaguars,” I say. “What’s the best way to spot one?”

Here are Sam’s tips. Next time I’ll follow them, and hopefully spot a jaguar from a safe distance.

Cockscomb National Park

Photo: Author

1. Go at night

Since jaguars hunt nocturnally, they obviously sleep during the day. Some visitors have been lucky enough to see one in the early morning, but the safest bet is to stay up and wait.

Cockscomb has camping facilities and cabins for rent specifically for visitors to watch for cats at night.

2. Bring an umbrella and a guide

The rainy season in June and July is when the cats are most active. Go with a licensed guide who can track the cats’ prints and droppings. Park rangers have set up cameras throughout the rainforest to record and observe the jaguars’ behavior. They know what to look for.

Guides are available both in Belmopan and Placencia. I arranged my visit with Sam through Splash Dive Center in Placencia. Another option is Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch outside of Belmopan, with guides that are also trained as medics.

3. Be quiet

This one is hard. Sitting still, in the dark, in the rain, at night looking for jaguars, I would want to talk to my guide just to stay awake. But jaguars are known for their stealth and any foreign noise or scent will scare them away.

4. Pray

Maybe a little prayer to the ancient Mayan Jaguar God of the underworld, Xbalanque, will send some cats your way.


Photo: ambertq

Other activities

Though I didn’t see any jaguars (secretly, I was relieved; I’ve had plenty of run-ins with Belize’s wildlife: barracudas, a viper, scorpions), I did enjoy an entire day at the park walking the trails, which are clearly marked, mapped out, and posted.

My favorite was the waterfall trail, a rugged hike up a hill that ended under a waterfall with a swimming hole.

Birders can try spotting some of the 290 species that live in the park. During the wet season, tubing in the river is also a popular option.

On my way back to Placencia, I had time to check out the Mayan Women’s Center for Crafts at the entrance of the park, with absolutely no fear of being mauled.


#407995 - 05/17/11 01:11 PM Re: Tips for jaguar spotting in Belize [Re: Marty]
Loansum-Al K Offline
A true story I'd like to share with you all:

A “National Geographic Moment” which I will explain further. My wife and I spent 2 nights at Mystic River Resort. Had we known what we were in for, we would have stayed a week! The resort is isolated and overlooks the Macal River. We decided to go down to the river and float on tethered tubes. While we were down at the river one of the staff brought us down a chess of ice cold beer, a very welcome sight since it was a very sunny day and warm. Now, for that “National Geographic Moment”…..we were standing on the edge of the river which is not very deep that time of year and about 75 yards away we saw a large whitetail deer enter the river. He was moving rather slowly and then started to dart back and forth. In hot pursuit was a black Jaguar, a very rare sighting in the middle of the day or anytime, as many of the locals in their lifetime have not seen a black Jaguar. The big cat took down his prey and they thrashed in the river for several minutes. Then complete silence. We waited for several moments but did not see or hear anything. We decided to go back up to the resort and share our experience with Nadege & Capt. Tom. They were amazed as we were. Shortly after, Nadege took my wife and me on a tour of the grounds. We walked along the bank above the river and one of the workers who was grooming the beach below called up and said a deer had floated up onto the bank. We could only assume the deer, that exceeded 200 pounds, was too much for the Jaguar to pull up out of the river. This was a trip that we will never ever forget. A must, if you are planning on a Belize vacation!
I'm happier than a pig in s__t...a foot on the sand...and a Belikin in my hand!


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