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Cat Tales, Issue 1: Trailing a Jaguar in Costa Rica

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Panthera recently gathered stories from our scientists, researchers and partners about their favorite encounters with big cats in the wild. Below is a story from Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, former Minister of Environment and Energy for Costa Rica and current vice president and director for Conservation International. This "Cat Tale" is the first in our series of seven.

Scientific information is abundant on the fact that humans are not on the jaguar menu. But folk stories of forest people tell a different tale.

In 2006, I joined an anti-poaching patrol from the Parks Service deep in the tropical lowland forest of Corcovado National Park. While walking ahead of the rangers, I was attacked by a tapir - a mother who mistook me for a threat to her baby. My ribs and head were injured, and I was left unconscious.

I awoke to find myself lost in the jungle. A major Red Cross search rescued me a few days later. On the second evening, I was looking for a way to cross a river when I backtracked about fifty meters and noticed some footprints on top of my own - jaguar tracks. Someone was following me.

A cold chill went up my spine as I realized the jaguar must be hiding nearby. I walked slowly to the riverbank and settled down for the night, telling myself the cat had probably moved on. But the spider monkeys didn't help - during the night, they started making alarm calls, the kind they give when they see a jaguar.

I was calming myself by remembering all that scientific information on humans and the jaguar menu when suddenly I heard a roar. I did not just fear being eaten by the jaguar. I also feared no one would ever find my remains to confirm that the information about the jaguar menu is wrong.

In the morning, I discovered many more jaguar tracks around the area where I had slept. I think the cat had never seen a human and was simply curious about this rare bipedal animal. Still, if you are one of those brave experts who believes that humans would never be jaguar prey, I invite you to spend a few nights in Corcovado National Park.

2009-11-06-DoncarlosenlaIsladelCoco.jpg As Minister of Environment and Energy for Costa Rica, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez implemented visionary policies that succeeded in halting the nation's rampant deforestation restoring critical habitat for jaguars. Among his many contributions to conservation, Rodriguez is perhaps best known for developing the concept of payment for ecosystem services which rewards communities for protecting native ecosystems by creating economic incentives through compensation. In his current role as vice president and director for Conservation International, Rodriguez advises governments on adapting payments for ecosystem services internationally, and works to create multinational alliances to further conservation on a global scale.

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