Jaguar spotting in Amazon rainforest, Peru
We’d been cruising upriver for two hours when the engine noise suddenly cut and a whispered word rose above the lapping of the muddy Amazon river water.
Ten souls stirred from soporific slumber and eyes started to scan the riverside. Spanish speakers stole a march as the boat captain murmured: “Izquierda, tronco”.
Foliage, water, trees all fuzzed into the background. Slowly, we all came to focus on a log – atop which a magnificent cat lay.
The jaguar considered us for 10-20 seconds, just enough time for most people to get a photograph of the reclining feline.
Imperceptibly at first, the jaguar rose slowly and started to pad towards the shoreline. At touching the sand, she looked backwards at us and held her gaze for some seconds.
An almost lackadaisical slouch from shore to the forest followed, a final backward glance and the forest took what was now ‘our’ jaguar away from us.
For many they are one if the main draws to the rainforest, yet jaguars are notoriously shy creatures and hard to spot in the rainforest.
Personally, I’ve spent almost six weeks at various rainforest lodges. The closest I’d been previously was to hear a jaguar howling and growling at us from the foliage on a roadside in Guyana – itself a heart stopping experience.
And there we were - some people aboard had only been in the Peruvian Amazon for 24 hours - and we’d seen one of its most precious jewels.
There was a buzz in the lodge as guests heard of our sighting, both pleased to know there are jaguars to see but envious they had not been the lucky ones. We were somehow touched by the jaguar’s celebrity.
Part of the advantage of travelling so far upstream to the excellent Tambopata Research Centre (TRC) in Peru, a genuine place for science, is the chance to be in such a wildlife hot spot.
To get there, you need to fly from either Cusco or Lima to Puerto Maldonaldo, and then travel six hours upstream – you can break up the journey by staying at other lodges en route – the lovely Posada or Refugio.
We had been lucky, but you need to put in the hours to see wildlife in the Amazon, and so by journeying in so far to see our cat, it felt like ours was a privilege earned.
The lodge and its animals
Apart from the once-in-a-lifetime jaguar sighting, TRC provided a host of monkey sightings, black caiman, peccary, aguti and tarantulas.
Rooms are very comfortable, with mosquito nets, private bathrooms with hot water and some luxury lodge options coming on soon.
Meals are plentiful and feature lots of rainforest fruits and recipes, and the top level guides help to bring flora and fauna alive.
The rainforest will always fascinate. Now I’ve seen the elusive jaguar, my must-see list still contains a tapir, puma and anaconda, and now finding out the name of an unknown flower I spotted.
You can see my video of the jaguar here. Please bear in mind I have a basic camera, and I was so bowled over at seeing this animal, I spent the first 20 seconds filming the wrong log.
More photos of the trip are on our Facebook page, too.