Belize's history of protecting jaguars is one of the proudest in the world - but it's a very fragile balance and the cat remains a prized possession for hunters.
That was illustrated on Sunday in Caledonia Village in the Corozal district. Today's Guardian Newspaper reported on a hunting expedition for game meat which encountered a mature male jaguar, reportedly near a cane field road on the outskirts of the village.
The Guardian newspaper which first published the story today, reports that the hunters shot it in the back of the head and took it back to the village where it was skinned. The pelt is considered valuable.
Today via telephone form Cayo, Jaguar expert Omar Figueroa told us the report distresses and concerns him greatly.
We warn you that the images used in the story - may be unpleasant to some:
Omar Figueroa - Jaguar Expert (Via Telephone) "It was very disturbing, Jules. Without a doubt, it is outrageous to say the least. As a country, Belize has done so much to advance jaguar research and conservation. In so many regards, we are the envy of the region, and to see this happening, is just very disturbing and disappointing. It appears to be a large male from the size of the head. Usually, females tend to have smaller heads. But what caught my attention is you see that it has intact canines, and there are no other signs to suggest that this cat was old cat, or was somehow injured, so, it had to be preying on livestock. So, it is very disturbing in that, what seems to have been removed is clearly a male who was probably in his prime out there, a dominant jaguar in the forests. When you remove these breeding members of the population, you really create a major imbalance in the local population of that area. So, if these incidents are a lot more common, or if they are happening across the country, it is a cause for us to be concerned about. Jules, what we need to understand, I think, first and foremost, is that we're dealing here with what is arguably one of the most iconic species in the Americas. This cat has been around for generations and generations, from way back in the time of the Mayas and the Olmecs. They have all had this cat as a part of their culture, their history, their traditions, and if we don't take the necessary steps to start to protect this species and to ensure its survival, then in the next couple generations, we won't have this cat around."
For the avoidance of doubt, it is strictly illegal to hunt jaguars in Belize or to trade in their pelts or teeth.
Figueroa estimates that there is a population of 400 to 600 jaguars in Belize.
The Belize Forestry Department has commenced an investigation of the killing of a jaguar in the Corozal district. These pictures emailed to our News Centre show the young male jaguar after it had been killed, reportedly near Caledonia village and brought into the community. The incident is reported to have happened last weekend; but it was not until late this week that word of the killing surfaced. Love News understands that the animal was killed somewhere in the vicinity of Caledonia and San Pablo villages. Under Belizeís laws, it is illegal to hunt or capture jaguars, which are listed as an endangered species. The Forestry Department today dispatched an officer to Caledonia village to investigate the killing of the animal. We will continue to monitor the story and bring you developments as they occur.
Based on the information received by the Guardian, the hunting party was out in a cane field road on the outskirts of the village, when they came upon the jaguar that was in the company of a female jaguar and a cub. They decided to take it down and shot it to the back of the head and later took it to the village where it was skinned. Its hide was reportedly taken off to be sold. What's alarming is that the jaguar is an endangered species. Speaking to jaguar specialist, Omar Figueroa, he explained that the population of the cat in Belize is between 400- 600 animals but that number being closer to 400. When we explained to him the killing of the cat in Caledonia, he expressed concern as the jaguar is protected under the Wildlife Act. He pointed out however, that there are provisions for an animal to be put down if it poses risks to livestock and human life. He said many times this is the excuse used to kill the cats, but there are no provisions for the hide, meat, teeth or claws to be taken either as trophies or for trade.
When he was told that the animal appeared to be a mature male and was accompanied by a female and a cub, Figueroa said that it was a shame that the animal was killed since it appeared to be of mature and reproductive age, and its killing severely affects the population of the cat as they take many years to reach a reproductive age. According to Figueroa, there are not enough studies conducted to determine the ecology of the jaguar and Belize is leading most research in this area. There is much to be understood in this area, he said, and while many are of the opinion that because there are numerous tracks to point a heavy presence of the animal, their roaming tendencies may help in the misconception. According to Figureroa, there is not a single nature reserve or protected area in Belize that can sustain the population of jaguars in Belize since they are known to roam in areas as large as 500 square kilometers.
He concluded by stating that hunters should not be reckless in shooting the animals since more often than not they do not pose a danger to humans.
The hunting of jaguars and the trading of their body parts is ILLEGAL! With only 400-600 jaguars estimated to be left in Belize's forest, let this serve as a reminder that we need to protect our jaguars, who are vital to a healthy forest ecology, and a healthy tourism industry, of which wildlife comprises a major cornerstone. Belize boasts the only reserve in the world set aside specifically for the preservation of Jaguars; take pride in this, and do your part to help preserve these cats for future generations.
Of course, not all jaguars can be as lucky as Lucky Boy. Recently, a dead jaguar was discovered in the northern village of Caledonia by some of the locals, and the media was alerted. The dead cat was inspected by a top jaguar researcher, and declared to have been a robust young male, in his prime, with no injury or ailment, and therefore NOT a threat to people or livestock. The cat was killed for the profit of his coat. A dead jaguar with a botched skinning attempt are all that remain of this magnificent creature. The hunting of jaguars and the trading of their body parts is ILLEGAL! With only 400-600 jaguars estimated to be left in Belize's forest, let this serve as a reminder that we need to protect our jaguars, who are vital to a healthy forest ecology, and a healthy tourism industry, of which wildlife comprises a major cornerstone. Belize boasts the only reserve in the world set aside specifically for the preservation of Jaguars; take pride in this, and do your part to help preserve these cats for future generations.