Our passion covers all aspects of wildlife in and around the jungles, rivers, swamps and beaches of Guatemala. Some of my most memorable wildlife experiences have been chance encounters with birds and mammals in the forests surrounding Estacion Biologicas Las Guacamayas.
Watching a tayra collecting food, a roadside hawk looking for prey or seeing a herd of peccaries charging through the forest are all experiences that have occurred while on our research expeditions over the last few years.
There are two standout mammal species that epitomise Central America; the tapir and the jaguar. They have both fascinated me from an early age, and although I have come across tantalising signs of them I have yet to set eyes on them in the wild….
The Jaguar’s Shadow – Richard Mahler
The appeal of jaguars is a deep and widespread one, described very well by Richard Mahler in ‘Jaguars Shadow’. The author, widely travelled in both Central and South America, has had a long-standing interest in these animals, especially their appearances in art, culture and religious iconography.
He notes how often jaguars are portrayed as symbols of sacred power, grace and royalty and how they are associated with magical qualities as guides, healers and protectors.
This interest inevitably leads to concerns over the future of jaguars and leads him to research many areas of biology, ecology and conservation. The book describes some of his findings and covers his quest to see one of these elusive felines in the wild; encountering along the way a strange and varied selection of characters including biologists, zoo keepers, tour guides and hunters.
I’m not going to tell you if he achieves his aim, but I would suggest you track down this book and join him on his quest…
Jaguar – Alan Rabinowitz
Coming from a totally different place is the real giant of jaguar conservation, Alan Rabinowitz. His book, ‘Jaguar‘ is a lot different from the relaxed and inquisitive style of Richard Mahler; instead being full of drama and tension, and bursting with single-minded determination to collect data on jaguars and persuade the government of Belize to designate a jaguar protection area. Reading at times more like a novel, it covers the harsh realities of working in a remote jungle alongside the sometimes perplexed locals, and of the various triumphs and tragedies, loves and losses that take place along the way.
I must confess to having a chuckle at times as the book veers towards what seems some slightly fictional aspects; the exact recollection of long-ago conversations and the dramatic way in which certain situations are described, but underneath it all you can see the utterly driven and determined way in which the author approaches his mission.
Despite the reactive way that some snakes are treated in encounters during the book, perhaps stemming from that ancestral fear of venomous snakes (see snake.. kill snake…) which seems to be a built-in fight-or-fight response in some of us… Rabinowitz is clearly passionate about protecting wildlife.
I first read ‘Jaguar’ long before I set foot in the forests of Guatemala and enjoyed it immensely then, having re-read it now I much better understood what the author says about the strange and brooding presence of the jungle and of the feelings it can inspire.
Alan Rabinowitz is a larger than life conservation character seemingly straight out of an adventure movie and he has done immeasurable good for many species of feline; he has also written a very moving book that shows just what can be done with enough determination. I’ll be looking around for more of his work.
REVIEW: Gary Powell, 7 February 2015