If you've visited the Belize Zoo, you've likely been close enough to a jaguar or a puma to admire their gorgeous coat or to marvel at the length of their incisors and paws. But unless you're a zoologist, your understanding of the intricacies of their existence probably ends right there. So in this week's inaugural Belize On Reel feature, we take you to the Freshwater Creek Conservation Base, located nineteen miles off the Philip Goldson Highway at mile forty-seven. That is where the Corozal Sustainable Future Initiative runs a research centre specifically to study these two wild cats and to come up with recommendations for their continued protection along the corridors where they traverse, hunt and keep the important ecological balance in the terrestrial landscape. News Five's Marion Ali found out that while both cats are predators, they coexist in the same geographical spaces. Here's that report.

Marion Ali, Reporting

Jaguars and pumas are sympatric creatures, meaning that while they have clear outward differences, they are genetically related wildcats that have learnt to coexist in the same spaces. Their characteristics, food sources, strengths and weaknesses are part of an ongoing study that the Corozal Sustainable Future Initiative carries out at the Fresh Water Creek Conservation Base. The area is at the southern tip of the northeastern biological corridor, an ideal location where these two big cats traverse. Interestingly, they hunt in such a way that does not deprive each other of food, quite like two similar businesses operating side by side, but cater to vastly different customers.

Dr. Omar Figueroa, Jaguar & Puma Expert

"If they hunt the same species at the same time, both won't be able to survive. So they need to be strategic. The jaguar clearly establishes itself as the top predator, so it gets first choice as to when it wants to hunt, where it wants to hunt, what it wants to eat."

According to Doctor Omar Figueroa, an expert heading the research on jaguars and pumas at the research facility, jaguars rely more on the strength of their jaws to choose their prey, as opposed to pumas, which bank on their agility to outsprint their prey.

Dr. Omar Figueroa

"The puma is more agile than the jaguar so the puma is able to hunt these species that are more agile out there.�� Whereas the jaguar doesn't need all that agility because it's so powerful. It basically can crush anything that it comes in contact with."

But while a jaguar's jaws are immensely strong, Figueroa says that humans should not be fearful if we happen to come in contact with them in the wild. In fact, he said, we should bask in the moment.

Dr. Omar Figueroa

"Sit back and enjoy it because you won't see him every day; it's once in a lifetime. I've been in the forest so long and I think there's probably two or three times I've seen a wild jaguar."

Shamir Quan, Ranger, Attached to Walter Zoo Enforcement Unit

"I can never say that a jaguar will attack you. The minute he spots you, he would literally turn around and go a different direction. And the puma would be the same."

Dr. Omar Figueroa

"From when a mom has her cubs and she raises them, she teaches them what's a prey and what's not a prey and humans are never part of that prey base so there's no need to fear.�� They are very shy creatures."

These traits are new to perhaps the majority of us. So the Freshwater Creek facility is engaged in training a set of rangers on how to safely capture jaguars to tag them and study them more closely and to better respond to human-jaguar conflict in the rapidly-expanding agriculture communities. Shamir Quan is enrolled in the training.

Shamir Quan

"These guys have a lot of cattle around the area, around the borderline. For a jaguar that would be an easy prey.� And from time to time we know they would actually shoot them and kill them.� So what we would normally do, we would try to identify which jaguar to be the problematic jaguar so what we would do is go out and set up our camera, traps and stuff and now that we're going to be safety capture experts then we will start to take them in."

Quan said based on what they gather of the offending wildcats, the team will decide whether they can rehabilitate them; relocate them, or whether they would need to become ambassadors for their species at the Belize Zoo. That's where a lot of us come in close proximity with these creatures and get a chance to marvel at their unique beauty.� But Belize's largest wildcats are under threat from humans.

Dr. Omar Figueroa

"We haven't reached to the point where we can classify the jaguar as endangered but certainly, if current trends continue we will get to that point.� What you have up here is a human-dominated landscape. If you look at the northeastern biological corridor you can see on both sides how agriculture is starting to encroach on it. Now agriculture is extremely important for our country.�� But at the same time we need to understand that if we don't pay attention to the ecology of our natural system we're doing a disservice to the very same population that we're trying to protect."

And that's where the N.G.O.'s emphasis lies - in making recommendations that would allow for development and agricultural expansion, but not at the risk of rendering these gorgeous creatures extinct.

Dr. Omar Figueroa

"If we begin to lose what we have in the marine environment and in the terrestrial environment, that industrial base that tourism offers will start to fade away.�� If you remove the jaguars and the pumas, you'll have an explosion of the animals that they feed on. And if you have an explosion of those populations that whatever those animals eat will be depleted and the while system begins to fall apart."

Tune in on Friday for Part two of this feature on Belize's biggest wildcats. >

Channel 5