The Petchary just learned that Belize has created a sanctuary for jaguars. It has a wonderful but slightly cumbersome name: the Labouring Creek Jaguar Corridor Wildlife Sanctuary. It is not a vast acreage, but the important part is the word “corridor.” Rather than have the gleaming, magnificent animals languish in small and ever-diminishing pockets of rain forest, the Belize government has, with thoughtful foresight, opened up a passageway, along which they can come and go. They can pass through the forest, one expects, from one end of the country to the other, and from country to country, from Central America all the way south – perhaps as far as Argentina.
The jaguar is a true creature of the Americas. She still lives in eighteen countries in the region. She once lived in the United States, and is rumored to perhaps live in Arizona and other parts of the south-west. But this population will, sadly, be cut off, isolated on a North American island, because the north-south border and the barriers and the checkpoints and the high wire fences and the trucks and the customs men and the human smugglers and the desperate illegals are blocking off their corridor. There will be no dank, richly scented, green passageway south for them.
She is not so much nocturnal as crepuscular – that is, she loves to hunt through the rain forest at dawn and dusk, as the calls of the forest change and recalibrate, night creatures rustle and day creatures roost and curl up in their leaf-strewn, muddy holes and lairs. She walks quietly along hidden forest paths, and she loves the deep forest pools, the stagnant brown splashes and waterfalls.
The jaguar was the spiritual companion of the Mayas – a people who somehow always seemed to exist in the shadowy regions between life and death – and she helped communicate between those two spheres. As noted above, a crepuscular, twilight being, jaguars inhabited the underworld as much as the real, bright, daylight world. And the underworld was a watery world in Maya cosmology – just as the jaguar loves water.
The Aztecs also revered them as noble and warrior-like; and named their elite group of fighters the Jaguar Knights.
The picture above is actually a carved relief of a Maya king sitting – or rather, curiously perched – on his Jaguar Throne, his posture strangely bird-like. There is one such throne in Chichen Itza, Mexico. And below is an Aztec Jaguar Knight, fitted from top to toe in a jaguar suit.
Yes, I know, this is the modern-day stuff of video games and fantasy novels. But the jaguar is a creature living on the edge of endangerment, trying to find his corridors, pacing through the jungle mostly alone unless she has cubs, walking through Mexico and Belize and onwards south. A corridor that runs alongside highways and housing developments and dams and cities and electric pylons and landfills. Sometimes their paths circle lands where cattle farmers try to protect their animals with guns.
Which is worse – killing such a beautiful animal so that one can parade – and fight – in its skin, or simply shooting it as it emerges at the edge of a deep green cattle pasture?
Both are, of course, clear examples of the relationship between humans and animal predators. Because, after all, we humans want to be the Kings, the Warriors, the Gods. We want to be the only predators around. And perhaps, one day, we will be.
Meanwhile, long live the Belizean Corridor, and those who walk in it.