By Panthera Conservation Council Member and Actress, Glenn Close
Panthera’s CEO, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, is one of my planet heroes. I first met him when I was on the Board of the Wildlife Conservation Society and we have been friends ever since. I come from a family that has a genetic disposition for wild things and wild places, though much has been a factor of our imaginations rather than a concrete reality. I happen to have married a man who has gone to a lot of remote areas, acting on what I may have only imagined.
Together we have experienced some spectacular places, but I always long for more. I do know that my chemistries change when I am in nature and I find myself needing that change, more and more. I have a deep respect for Alan, George Schaller, Panthera’s Vice President, and all the brilliant scientist-advocates of Panthera. In fighting to save the big cats, they are on the forefront of the battle to preserve wild places.
Meeting Alan, I learned about Panthera’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative in Latin America, which he pioneered. And I learned that he had established the world’s first jaguar reserve in the jungles of Belize, which is now called the Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Reserve. When my husband and I decided to go to Belize this past Christmas, going to the reserve was first on my list. Through Alan and Panthera’s Jaguar Program Executive Director, Dr. Howard Quigley, I was put in contact with Dr. Bart Harmsen, Panthera’s Belize Country Coordinator and Research Fellow with the University of Belize.
The day was set and one morning I arrived at the Cockscomb Reserve ready for anything. Bart and I found each other and after a quick tour of the research and tourist facilities—and a glimpse of the rustic cabin where Alan had once lived—we set off down the path that would take us to the camera site that had yielded the most pictures of passing jaguars. I certainly had no expectations about seeing one. I know that they are incredibly elusive. The fact that eighty of them were in this particular reserve was thrilling enough for me.
Bart was a gallant and fascinating guide and the number of tracks we saw certainly did not disappoint us, tracks of not only hefty jaguars, but of pumas and tapirs as well. It was raining, meaning that any tracks we saw were very fresh. My sandals were sturdy and impervious to water so I didn’t care how muddy they got.
Cockscomb is a gorgeous jungle full of chaotic diversity on every level. From the lines of leaf-cutter ants, struggling across the muddy path, their quivering bits of bright green leaves looking like the sails of a tiny armada, to the jungle canopy—a riot of trunks and vines and foliage, of shapes, shades of green, textures and movement. We passed by a swamp-like area that looked positively primordial. I trusted Bart completely when he said we could drink out of a jungle stream. The water was cool and lovely.
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.
When we got to where the two digital cameras were set up, Bart insisted that I be in a picture. He then promised to send me pictures of whatever jaguar had been most recently caught by the same camera. The idea that I was on the same path regularly frequented by jaguars-the third largest great cat after tigers and lions-made me feel as if I were on hallowed ground.
It brings me great comfort to know that the jaguars are there in Cockscomb when I walk across a congested city street, feeling the unforgiving concrete beneath my step, being jostled on crowded sidewalks and bombarded by the sheer noise of our civilization. I think of the silence of the jaguar as it pads through the jungle, hardly visible in the dappled light. We had nothing to do with the miracle of the jaguar’s creation, but have everything to do with its survival. The world needs the jaguar’s majesty and mystery. We are better because the jaguar exists.
Following Glenn’s visit, Panthera, the government of Belize and the University of Belize signed a Memorandum of Understanding pledging to collaboratively implement science-based conservation initiatives that secure and connect jaguars and their habitats in Belize and beyond its borders, facilitate land development that is both ecologically sustainable and economically profitable, and mitigate human-jaguar conflict throughout the country.
Read Panthera’s press release – New Protection for the Jaguar: Belize and Panthera Sign Critical Conservation Agreement.