The Endangered King of the Mayan Jungle

mayan jaguar Yukatan amazon

It is the perfect predator, with its yellow fur like the sun and its black rosettes like stars. It walks through the jungle unseen, always watching us. It is the ruler of the night, the king of the Mayan jungle.

mayan jaguar

Better known as “Balam” (in Mayan language) by the local people, the jaguar is one of the most emblematic and charismatic animals in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. It is the largest felid in the American continent and the third largest in the world.

A symbol of power and strength, the jaguar was considered a sacred animal for the ancient Mayans. It was related to darkness and night, and it was seen as the ruler of the underworld.

Nowadays, the evidence of the strong relationship between the Mayans and the jaguar remains in the multiple and diverse pre-Hispanic representations, as well as in the contemporary Mayan cultural traditions.

mayan jungle

We can also see jaguar representations in many archaeological sites throughout the Yucatan Peninsula that show how important this cat was to our ancestors.

Its importance goes beyond the cultural. Ecologically, it plays an important role in controlling the population sizes of its prey and maintaining balance in the ecosystems where it lives.

The jaguar is also considered an umbrella species and an indicator of the ecosystem’s conservation status, as it is at the top of the food chain and needs large areas of land to survive.

The Mayan jungle

After the Amazon, the Mayan jungle is the largest remaining tropical rainforest in the American continent. From Belize and northern Guatemala to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, it provides refuge to a great diversity of species.

amazon jungle

The total jaguar population in Mexico is estimated between 4,000 – 5,000 individuals in the wild, and more than half of them inhabit the Yucatan Peninsula Mayan jungle, making this area a priority for its conservation.

Unfortunately, this region has been subject to significant changes in its forest coverage mainly due to agriculture, livestock, and urban development, having a negative impact on the jaguar population.

DSLR camera trapping

As a wildlife photographer, I always wanted to photograph a wild jaguar in Yucatan, my home state. Having an encounter with a jaguar in the wild is very rare, so I had to find another way: camera traps.

camera trap photography

I managed to build some DSLR camera traps, and I was ready to test them in the Yucatan Mayan jungle.

A DSLR camera trap consists of a passive or active infrared sensor connected to a DSLR camera and some speed lights for lighting.

Unlike conventional camera traps, which are used for wildlife monitoring, DSLR camera traps are mainly used for getting high-quality images with great visual impact.

mayan jaguar Yukatan amazon

After a few years of working with DSLR camera traps in the Yucatan jungle, I had captured some images of wild jaguars in their habitat, but I felt something was missing; I was not satisfied.

I had a powerful tool and felt the responsibility to show not just the beauty of this charismatic cat, but, more importantly, the issues that it faces. I needed to tell the whole story.

Threats to jaguars

Unfortunately, the jaguar population has decreased over the years, and in Mexico, it is listed as an endangered species. This is mainly attributed to habitat loss due to changes in land use.

amazon deforestation Mayan jungle

The natural areas once ruled by jaguars are being destroyed and replaced by agricultural land, ranchland, and urban areas.

They are also becoming increasingly fragmented, which means that patches of natural areas are decreasing in size and becoming isolated and less connected. This could have serious long-term consequences, such as local extinctions.

illegal wildlife trafficking

Illegal hunting and trafficking are also threats for jaguars in the Yucatan Peninsula, as there is a great demand for jaguar parts in the national and international black market.

Deforestation and poaching have caused an increase in negative interactions between jaguars and humans, another significant threat that jaguars face.

wildlife encroachment jaguar conservation story

As their habitat is reduced and the populations of their potential prey decrease, they are forced to approach human settlements to feed on cattle and other domestic animals, which most of the time does not end well for jaguars.

Jaguar conservation

The jaguar’s long-term survival depends on the preservation of its habitat. Appropriate management of protected areas and the establishment and strengthening of biological corridors are indispensable for jaguar conservation.

jaguar conservation amazon

In addition, the implementation of public policies and the promotion of alternative and sustainable productive activities for the Mayan communities would help ensure the jaguar’s survival in the Mayan jungle.

Mayan jaguar conservation

Fortunately, there are people dedicated to the study and conservation of jaguars. Biological monitoring allows for the development of strategies to preserve the natural areas where these cats live and mitigate the negative impact of human actions.

In conclusion

Despite all the threats that the jaguar faces, we still have time to take action to protect it and prevent it from disappearing in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Preserving the Mayan jungle and the connectivity between natural areas is the key to jaguar conservation.

We humans are responsible for all the damage that we have caused to this species, but the good news is that we are also the ones with the solution.

I hope I can show with this story a bit of the reality that jaguars are facing, and I hope my photography helps to raise awareness and inspire more people to take action.

We must act now before it is too late if we want to ensure the survival of the king of the Mayan jungle.

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