Over the past few weeks, I have blogged about two of the big cats of Asia: the Amur Leopard and the Snow Leopard. The Western Hemisphere has its share of spotted cats, as well. The jaguar is the third largest feline species worldwide, after lions and tigers. It occupies a huge range of 18 Latin American countries, from Mexico to Argentina, with occasional sightings reported as far north as Arizona.
While it is not hunted for the perceived medicinal value of its body parts as the wild cats of Asia, clearing of the rainforests for the building of ranches and farms poses a twofold danger to the jaguar: destruction of its habitat and natural food sources, and proximity to domestic livestock, which the jaguar will gladly resort to eating when its wild menu has been eradicated or driven out of its native range. This leads to retaliatory killing of the big cats by farmers and ranchers.
Belize has taken major steps to protect the giant felines, once so revered in the mythology of its native Mayan people. Through establishment of sanctuaries such as the Central Belize Jaguar Corridor and the Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve in the southern region of the country, Belize has made a commitment to preserving biodiversity within its boundaries.
Deep within La Selva Maya, the largest contiguous rainforest north of the Amazon, lies the Gallon Jug Estate. This privately-owned property in northwestern Belize boasts one of the highest frequencies of jaguar sightings, on average once a week. Guests on Natural Habitats’ Ultimate Belize Safari spend three nights at Chan Chich eco-lodge on the reserve with jungle walks and game drives to scout for the rich animal life and 350 resident bird species, including the king feline of the Americas.