National Geographic : 2009 Mar
• though it takes many blasts, kill him. Jaguars, they say, are nothing but cattle killers, dog kill- ers. ey are vermin. ey should be shot on sight, anytime, anywhere. This sad story has been played out thou- sands of times throughout the jaguar s home- land, stretching from Mexico (and formerly the United States) to Argentina. In recent decades it s happened with even greater frequency, as ranching, farming, and development have eaten up half the big cat s prime habitat, and as humans have decimated its natural prey in many areas of remaining forest. ALAN RABINOWITZ ENVISIONS a di erent end- ing to the story. He imagines that the young jaguar, when he leaves his birthplace, will pass unseen by humans through a near-continuous corridor of sheltering vegetation. Within a cou- ple of days he ll nd a small tract of forest har- boring enough prey for him to stop and rest a day or two before resuming his trek. Eventually he ll reach a national park or wildlife preserve reluctance to cross open areas. Creeping close before a final rush, he instantly kills the calf with one snap of his powerful jaws. e next day the rancher nds the remains and the telltale tracks of a jaguar. He calls some of his neighbors and gathers a pack of dogs. e hunters nd the young male, but they re armed only with shotguns; anxious, they shoot from too great a distance. The jaguar s mas- sively thick skull protects him from death, but the pellets blind him in one eye and shatter his le foreleg. Crippled now, unable to nd his normal prey in the scrubby forest, let alone stalk and kill it, he s driven by hunger to easier meals. He kills another calf on an adjacent ranch, and then a dog on the outskirts of a nearby town. is time, though, he lingers too long. Attracted by the dog s howls, a group of villagers tree him and, Powerful in the water, jaguars often travel along streams, hunt- ing peccaries and brocket deer as they go, leaving few traces of their passage. That can make tracking these cats a challenge for Rabinowitz and his team (opposite, in Costa Rica). They work like detectives, seeking hard evidence of where jaguars have been, and interviewing locals who may have spotted one. Mel White is a regular contributor. Among his stories: Borneo in the November 2008 issue and the case of the ivory-billed woodpecker in December 2006.