11 Feb

A Day in Belize with Glenn Close and the Jaguars of Cockscomb - Part 1


Nestled in the Central American country of Belize, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary exists as a sacred refuge - a home and passageway for the jaguars of Central America, and a source of pride and achievement for the people of Belize, and the scientists of Panthera.

Back in the 1980’s, when the world was first recognizing the concept of wildlife conservation, Panthera’s CEO, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, set out to study and radio-collar the first jaguars in Belize. Demonstrating that Cockscomb Basin contained the highest density of jaguars ever recorded at the time, anywhere in the wild, Dr. Rabinowitz’s research was instrumental in the establishment of the world’s first jaguar preserve, and what is now known as Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Panthera CEO Dr. Alan Rabinowitz examines a jaguar track in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize

Initially declared a national forest in 1984, with a “No Hunting” ordinance to protect the region’s large jaguar population and other wildlife, the government of Belize soon declared a portion of the Cockscomb Basin Forest Reserve a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1986.

This past December, nearly thirty years after the establishment of Cockscomb, was excited to host a celebrity conservation champion in her own right, and long-time supporter of Panthera's Jaguar Corridor Initiative - actress and Panthera Conservation Council Member, Glenn Close.

In search of the elusive jaguar, Ms. Close joined Panthera’s biologists for a day in the field, trekking through dense jungle to check camera traps and search for signs, including cat scat, scrapings or tracks, indicating the presence of the Americas’ largest wild cat. Unfazed by the jungle’s intermittent rain, slippery mud and unmerciful mosquitoes, Glenn and Panthera’s team studied and documented the fresh jaguar scrape marks (used to mark territory) and the jaguar, puma, and tapir tracks found along the way.

A camera trap snaps a photo of Panthera Conservation Council member & actress, Glenn Close, & Panthera Research Fellow, Bart Harmsen. The night before, this camera snapped a photo of a male jaguar.

Finally, on reaching one of Panthera’s camera traps, the team found more jaguar tracks, nearby – a promising sign that this cat had been caught on camera. After being captured themselves in Panthera’s camera trap, (left), the team was excited to discover back at headquarters that this camera had successfully photographed a male jaguar in the same place the night before.

As it turns out, Ms. Close was photographed – within a 24-hour period – in the exact spot as one of the oldest wild jaguars ever recorded in Belize. This individual, known as M04-21, is now a twelve-year-old male who was first photographed in 2004.

Today, due to strict protection afforded to the wildlife of Cockscomb Sanctuary, this region maintains a stable jaguar population, making images like these common. Over the last ten years, with the help of Panthera’s camera traps and other research methods, our field team has continually monitored a large number of individual jaguars, like this male, that have occupied the Cockscomb region.

A 12 year old male jaguar, known as M04-21, is one of the oldest wild jaguars ever recorded in Belize. Panthera Conservation Council member, Glenn Close, was photographed in the same location within a 24-hour period of this image being taken.

Through the Jaguar Corridor Initiative, Panthera is working to protect jaguars and their habitat within Cockscomb and the Central Belize Corridor – a region that serves as the critical link between jaguar populations in Mexico and Guatemala, and all jaguar populations south of Belize. Working closely with the Belize Audubon Society, the Ministry of Forestry, Fishery and Sustainable Development, and the University of Belize's Environmental Research Institute, Panthera’s scientists are monitoring jaguar populations and their prey, collaborating with local communities to mitigate conflict, and partnering with local governments and communities to secure and link jaguar habitat, so these wild cats can roam and fulfil their ecological role in the fabric of Belize.

Beyond Belize, Panthera’s scientists are working in 13 of the 18 jaguar range states to carry out the Jaguar Corridor Initiative - the most comprehensive and transformative species conservation program in existence, using a range-wide approach to ensure the future of this magnificent carnivore.

Thanks to the help of generous individuals like Ms. Close, Panthera is able to continue our jaguar conservation work in Belize and throughout the Jaguar Corridor.

Learn more about the Jaguar Corridor Initiative, and stay tuned for Part Two of this story, when Panthera Conservation Council member and actress Glenn Close will share her experience, in her own words, on searching for jaguars in Cockscomb.

Read Panthera’s press release – Belize Officials and Panthera Scientists Score Another Huge Victory for Wild Cats; Secure Protected Jaguar Corridor

Learn more about Panthera’s Conservation Council – an expert advisory board that contributes to the direction of the organization and the implementation of Panthera’s mission.

Cockscomb Photo Gallery