There are so many beautiful and incredible things to see and experience at Runaway Creek but none seems to capture the hearts and imaginations like that of the Jaguar.
“The Jaguar is a symbol of Maya Royalty,” says Dr. Jaime Awe, director of Belize’s Institute of Archaelogy. It’s no wonder, even at seeing a the Jaguar at arms length in the Belize Zoo one can appreciate the true power, intelligence, and beauty of these rare animals – much less capturing a glimpse of a Jaguar in the wild, such as researcher Brittany Felcaro while studying Sypder Monkeys on Runaway Creek. “He came out of nowhere, bounded over a log and had the monkey fast in his jaws before I could hardly even react,” says Felcaro. “It was one of the most powerful and awe inspiring things I’ve ever seen – something I’ll never forget.”
An equally incredible story is that of the endangered Jaguars program at Runaway Creek. The staff had captured disparate glances or occassional remote photographs of Jaguars on the property, but only recently have we begun to learn the true importance of this reserve for Jaguars in Belize. Now former director of Runaway Creek, Ph.D. candidate Omar Figueroa is conducting a study of Jaguars on the preserve and adjoining properties. He is tracking and collaring the cats, their movements, their prey, and social strati as they coexist with other big cats on the reserve including Puma.
The primary objective of the study is the monitor the movements of the big cats in real time through the use of GPS collars. There’s never been a study done like this one. One of the most referenced resources on Jaguars today is a study in which three Jaguars were tracked using radio collars. Today, under the direction of Omar Figueroa, there have already been thirteen big cats collared including four Jaguar. After a brief hiatus due to lack of funding, Omar is back at the study today and hopes to collar at least a dozen more cats before making any resolute conclusions on the movement patterns of Jaguar.
“In late 2008 we captured a picture of a Jaguar passing through one of our caves,” says staff member Reynauld Gray, “and no more than ten minutes later a Puma passed by along the same path! This is extremely rare behavior for big cats to share such close proximity in the wild.” These type of discoveries are ground breaking for research and further fuel the Figueroa and the staff in anticipation of data from the study.
The tracking of Jaguar with GPS and radio collars will enable Figueroa to determine the total amount of area that Jaguar need to survive, given that habitat is already very limited. “This data may also prove to a be a critical factor in further defining the need for a greater wildlife corridor throughout Belize that would connect disparate habitats,” says Dr. Gil Boese, founder of the Foundation for Wildlife Conservation. Such a corridor would also be essential to the longterm survival of other endangered wildlife including birds, tapirs, monkeys, and even butterfly.
In 2004 the adjacent Belize Zoo launched the Problem Jaguar Rehabilitation Project, which takes in and trains problem cats and then sends them to North American zoos.