Simon Barnes recounts a sighting of a wild Jaguar in Belize, and the lesson it taught him about conservationists, in his latest blogpost in Barnes’s Bestiary.
I have always told this story as a humorous gloat: I saw it and you didn’t, nana-ni-nana. What birders call “gripping somebody off”. But in fact this story is a glorious parable about conservation and the people who do it. The moral is that Jaguars are fabulous: but so are the people who do real conservation.
It was my first trip with World Land Trust (WLT), my first trip to Belize, my first visit to New World rainforest. I was travelling with John Burton, CEO of WLT on his 20th trip to Belize. He had never seen a Jaguar and naturally, longed to.
But he didn’t… and I did. And yes – bloody hell, yes – it was marvellous all right. I’m used to the more delicate leopards I see in Africa; here was a great bruiser of cat, swaggering down the road in front of the vehicle with a neck on him like Mike Tyson. That elastic stride, those huge spotty paws, that sense of latent power – and then he was back in the jungle and lost to me.
John was somewhat rueful about this. It was, after all, deeply unfair, but that’s the thing about wildlife – it ain’t tame. So why did he miss out? He missed out because he was doing conservation. Instead of having fun in the forest he was back at camp talking horrible, maddening, essential details of finance with the excellent people from the partner organisation, Programme for Belize. In other words, he failed to see Jaguars because he was saving Jaguars.
And that’s conservation. It’s not about you: it’s about them. It’s about those wild things out there stalking through the forests: kings of the jungle unaware that at any moment some human whim could destroy the jungle forever.
So as WLT’s Jungle for Jaguars appeal continues, I would like to invite you to be a great conservationist. You may never see a jaguar in your life: but that’s not the point. The point is the continued existence of Jaguars: the point is not you but them. And you can help them.
Lord, but that strolling menace of that Jaguar was wonderful all right… but John, who never saw it, has done more for Jaguars than I ever will in my life. And that’s also pretty wonderful, is it not?
Donations to Jungle for Jaguars will go towards the purchase and protection of 8,154 acres of jungle habitat for Jaguars in Belize that is otherwise threatened by deforestation.