National Geographic : 2017 Dec
jaguars 77 We waited on mats with blankets and plastic vomit buckets under the thatched roof of a large open-air pavilion called a maloca. There were 28 of us—from the United States, Canada, Spain, France, Argentina, and Peru. We had all come in search of something to this re- mote outpost in the Peruvian Amazon built on the banks of a strange, lethally hot stream called the Boiling River. Some were hoping to find cures for serious afflictions; some were searching for direction; others simply wanted a glimpse into another world—the most esoteric corner of what Alan Rabinowitz broadly calls the “jaguar cultural corridor.” This domain encompasses the habitats and migration paths that his conservation organi- zation, Panthera, is trying to protect to ensure the survival of the estimated 100,000 jaguars and the vitality of their gene pool. Small bats zigzagged in the rafters. Two dan- gling bulbs held back the darkness of the for- est. The medicine was doled out silently over the drone of the river, where wraiths of steam swayed in eddies of cool night air. When the ap- prentices came to me, I got onto my knees, an old Roman Catholic habit maybe, or just what everyone else was doing. One apprentice handed me the chalice, another stood by with a glass of water. As you might before stepping off a cliff, I hesitated, thinking of what the well-known curandero Don José Campos had told me in the busy Peruvian port of Pucallpa a few days before. “You don’t take ayahuasca,” he said. “It takes you.” I tipped the cup and drank. I HaD COME TO sEE MaEsTrO juaN at Mayan- tuyacu, the shamanic healing center he found- ed in the 1990s, hoping to learn more about jaguars, particularly those aspects of the animal that can’t be captured in camera traps. Panthera onca are the apex carnivores of North and South America. They are at once regal and ferocious, unrivaled in stealth, at home in rivers, on jun- gle ground, and in trees, their eyes glittering in the dark with the tapetum lucidum cells of their night-vision retinas. They have the most power- ful bite, relative to their size, among the big cats. And, uniquely among the big cats, they bite the skulls rather than the throats of their prey, often piercing the brain and causing instant death. Their guttural, grating roar suggests nothing so Peruvian shaman Maestro Juan Flores stands by the Boiling River, once avoided by locals because of deadly jaguars and otherworldly forces. Today the only jaguars here are those he beckons from the spirit world. Maestro Juan sought traditional cures here after he was shot in the legs; he later founded the Mayantuyacu shamanic healing center nearby.