At 9:10 this morning, I was working alone in a remote research plot about two miles from Tiputini. I’d just finished a transect of mixed-flock surveys and was standing quietly in a small clearing, writing in my field notebook, when something rustled a leaf at the edge of the open area. Thinking it was one of the peccaries I’d flushed a few minutes earlier, I glanced up just in time to watch a full-size Jaguar emerge from the undergrowth in front of me. I thought: Holy $%&*!

It was close, really close, and angled toward me, apparently not noticing my presence as it approached slowly across the clearing. I stood absolutely still and had time to admire the intricately spotted fur, long tail, rippling body, and even the sharp feline teeth exposed in a slight grin across the blocky head. The animal was the size of a very large dog but much stockier, and had a relaxed, muscular gait. When it was within 25 feet, just a few steps away, I began to inch my hand inside my pocket to retrieve my camera. The slight movement finally caught the Jaguar’s attention and it looked up, locked eyes on mine, and froze.

There followed a few slow beats of absolute silence as we both began to comprehend the encounter. I realized how utterly alone I was, more than an hour’s hike from the station, off-trail in the rainforest without any means of communication, face to face with the king of the jungle. My adrenaline finally kicked into gear. I wondered what the cat was thinking.

Evidently it didn’t like me very much, since, after a few moments, it turned its head and, with a few unhurried paces, merged into the surrounding greenery as silently as a ghost. It had been in view less than a minute.

According to camera trap data, Tiputini has one of the highest densities of Jaguars in the world (estimated at 22 per 100 square kilometers). Hardly a day goes by when we don’t talk about them. They’re usually the most-wanted animal for visitors to Tiputini but are very rarely seen; in the last two months since I arrived, only one other person has encountered one. I’m extremely lucky to have seen one so well, and on such intimate terms – many sightings are fleeting glimpses or from boats on the river.

Guess it’s been a good year for cats. I ran into two different Mountain Lions while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail last summer, and found a Margay here at Tiputini last month. What could be next?

9 replies
  1. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Holy cats, Noah! You are a magnet, and you must handle these encounters just right to get such good looks and to hike away afterward! Great description of the Jag….thanks for allowing me to be along!

  2. Tom Mickel
    Tom Mickel says:

    Wow – two cats, a bot fly, and 233 species on a big day! It sounds like Tiputini is living up to its reputation! I’ve a little green and it’s not because I live in Duckville. Hope the rest of your stay is as exciting.

  3. Jeanbb
    Jeanbb says:

    Hi Noah, I have been enjoying your postings from Tiputini. It is pretty fortunate for you and exciting to see the jaguar.! It’s a good thing you did not surprise the kitty as it doesn’t sound like you had a lot of options had it decided to spring your way!

  4. Laura Johnson
    Laura Johnson says:

    Wow, Noah!! I think the extent of my jealousy regarding your jaguar encounter could be summed up as follows: if I were to have a comparable jaguar sighting (similar in setting and in duration of viewing), that would be the highlight of, no, not my year, but my life!
    As to what’s next, I’m sure, based on your history of wild cat magnetism, you’ll have a grand slam of every feline species possible there, before you leave. Ocelot? Jaguarundi? Little spotted cat (Felis tigrina)? Pampas cat? Are all four of those species possible, at Tiputini? Of course, you’ll also have to see another puma, too.

  5. Anne Heyerly
    Anne Heyerly says:

    Wow!!!! Congrats!!! That sounded like a great encounter – glad it decided you were not something to closely investigate! Our Jag was swimming fast and running even faster when it hit land! Have you stopped shaking yet?

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