Jaguar sighting! – Certified Wilderness Guide Course

It was about 09:00 on day 2 of the Certified Wilderness Guide Course… It was Nico Armstrong’s turn to lead the group. We were hiking down along the bank of the Guabita creek, and just as we approached its mouth, right where it meets the Cangandi River, Nico uttered the word “jaguar”, but it sounded flat, with no inflection; as if he was having a conversation with the person behind him or telling a story that involved a jaguar. Then he said “jaguar!” again in a bit more urgent tone. It’s hard to describe that tone, but any nature guide knows exactly the feeling. It’s like whispering a desperate yell. You just spotted something and you want your group to see it before it bolts away, but you don’t want to cry it out loud because you know you’ll scare it. That’s been the story of my life since I’ve been guiding in the jungle.
This time it was different however, and everything seemed to conspire in our favor. As we went down the bank towards the confluence of the Guabita and the Cangandi River, we had an incredible vantage point of the river below, it was like a big window in the foliage through which we could see everything. Then right on the rocky beach, on our side of the river, there was an adult jaguar sauntering along heading upstream. Everyone in our party got to see it well for a few seconds. However, we knew that at any moment, the cat could catch a glimpse of our movement, a whiff of our scent, or the sound of our voices, and run away. But none of this happened. The jaguar never cared to look up to the bank, we must’ve been downwind, and the noise of the river rapids was deafening.
We tip-toed hastily down to the beach while the jaguar kept strolling away. I had intentionally resisted the reflex to flip out my camera and take a shot, because so many times people miss the incredible sightings of nature in their efforts to record them with their gadgets. But this cat seemed so distracted, and we enjoyed it for a lapse of time that seemed like hours, that it dawned on me that perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to take a picture or two. At that moment the jaguar went behind a few tufts of grass but still partially visible at about 75 meters from us. Then it stopped for a second, as if knowing that something was amiss. It turned its head in our direction but we were standing perfectly still. The cat seemed to doubt for another few seconds whether we were an anomaly of the landscape or worse: humans. Then it decided to err on the side of caution, and went across the river to disappear in the jungle.
My pictures turned out quite lame, but fortunately Kandi Valle had his camera rolling, and a decent video did capture the jaguar rock-hopping across the water.
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This jaguar sighting has been one of the pinnacles in my career, and one for which I’m really grateful. But it was only Day 2 on a guide field course that lasted 10 days. It was just the beginning… The accompanying video is a collection of images and moments from that course. They’re not in any particular order, but they tell the story.
We hope to offer the same course next year for those of you who would love to pursue a career in the wilderness. We are very excited about our partnership with the Professional Association of Wilderness Guides and Instructors, as well as Earth Train, who provided us with their facilities at the Mamoni Valley Preserve for the classroom module, and the Guna people of Cangandi, who granted us access to their magnificent rainforest to conduct the 10-day jungle course. To all of them, our most sincere thank you! We also would like to show our appreciation to our instructor Alex Bigwood of Ukaliq Wilderness for an amazing training, and to Jim, Jorge, Mark, Kandi, Nico, Thijmen, and Rick the first 7 men in Panama who have now become Certified Wilderness Guides!

July 12 2016