Today, we bring you a blog post written by Panthera grantee and wildlife scientist Dr. Evi Paemelaere, who is currently carrying out a project to learn more about the presence and distribution of jaguars in the Rupununi region of Guyana. Read the post to learn about Evi’s excursions into the field to set up camera traps and see photos of the incredible wildlife captured on film, including Evi’s first camera trap photo of a healthy and very well-fed jaguar and ocelots, black curassows, tapirs, capybaras, agoutis, coatis, bats, and other animals whose names you may or may not recognize.
Carried out through the Jaguar Corridor Initiative, we hope that Evi’s research will demonstrate the importance of the Rupununi region as a connecting block for the Jaguar Corridor, which extends between southern Venezuela, southern Guyana, and Suriname.
Dr. Evi Paemelaere is a grantee of the Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Jaguar Research Grant Program - a partnership between the Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation and Panthera that supports in situ jaguar conservation projects.
by Evi Paemelaere
RUPUNUNI, GUYANA — Fellow field biologists with much experience in camera trapping projects had described field days as Christmas morning. Every few days or weeks, cameras need a change of batteries and memory cards (or film). As you move from camera to camera, anticipation builds; reading the number of pictures on each card, you can’t help but wonder: what pictures does this card hold? Filled with hope that at least one of those tiny square packages holds the present you have been hoping for, you unwrap them one by one by plugging them into the computer.
The cards click, windows pop up, the package is unwrapped and a hidden world unfolds on your screen.
Some cards return with merely a couple of photographs, others may hold hundreds. Quantity is somewhat irrelevant in this case — the card with the least photograph may just be the one to return the biggest price, in my case: a jaguar shot.
Not wanting to get my hopes up of finding my big price at the first check, just ten days after placing the cameras, my mind critically reviewed the camera trapping protocol. How could we, with so few cameras (16!) over such a large area possibly get a jaguar to pass by exactly where we placed those cameras? There were so many locations without a single of my elusive electronic eyes; the jaguar(s), if even present, could be walking in a thousand other places without ever passing the exact spot of the camera, right?
My critical mind only led to one conclusion: these protocols had been developed by some clever and creative minds!
The basic idea is simple. With cameras scattered across the area at more or less equal distances and with at least one camera per potential jaguar territory, placed in a spot favorable by a jaguars (like roads, water holes, etc.), the animal is likely to pass by the camera during his many wanderings inside the territory.
By the time I was ready to head back to the field, only two excuses for the lack of jaguar shots remained: Time had been too short for a jaguar to pass by one of the cameras, a likely possibility in case of large territories. On the other hand, jaguars reported in this area could just be traveling through, rather than being residents. In such case, their passing by a camera would not be the result of wandering around in the same general area, but sheer luck!
Upon my return from the field, everybody gathered around the computer, Karanambu’s infamous rum punch at hand. Cards were plugged in one by one. Starting with cards that had the most pictures, the screens popped up with great shots of all sorts:
A few sips of rum punch, a toast to great pictures!
But there were more still … One of the cameras had been set up just about one mile from the Karanambu compound, near the road to the airstrip , where cars, motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians pass multiple times a day. This was the busiest place of all for traffic and very close to living quarters. With only seven pictures, several of which I knew were pictures of us walking by, expectations were low. Pictures popped up: me, me, Esteban, me again, and …
WAH! I stared at the screen, incapable of grasping what I was really looking at. I heard people jumping up behind me. Laughter, sounds of joy! What in the blur of excitement and confusion had looked to me like a pitch black background with a golden glow was in fact: my first every jaguar picture! Sharp and clear, full body shot, taken just days after we had left the camera there.
Nimrod, the mighty hunter
The nightly sounds of a roaring jaguar nearby now had a face, and a name, given to him by Diane McTurk: Nimrod, the mighty hunter!
Nimrod looked fit and thoroughly fed. What was Nimrod’s story? Did he live on Karanambu land? Was there a mate for him? Were there any other males he had to compete with? Did he have enough to feed on, or was he stealing cows, horses, sheep or dogs?
We have the next couple of months to unravel his story, a few months to discover just how many jaguars roared in Karanambu’s corner of the Rupununi …