We first “met” Ben the jaguar in 2011, when he was photographed by our camera traps (Pantheracams) in Belize’s Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, 124,000 acres of protected jungle and an important long-term study site for jaguar research.
Ben’s official name is M11-8, the eighth new male detected in our study area in 2011. We re-named him Ben in memory of Arturo ‘Ben’ Ramos, a dedicated field technician who passed away in 2015, just three weeks after assisting with Ben’s capture and collaring.
Like all jaguars, Ben is uniquely identifiable by his spot pattern. When we first detected Ben, he roamed the southern part of our study area, but he soon began expanding his range; by 2014, our Pantheracams showed that Ben was well-established across the Cockscomb Basin.
Ben’s geographical expansion was probably related to establishing dominance and finding females. He spent much time in an area frequented by a five-year-old female jaguar, later photographed with a cub. We cannot be sure if Ben is the father, but it is possible. He also pursued three females over the following few months.
In early 2015, we successfully captured Ben and fitted him with a GPS tracking collar. He was in excellent condition and weighed a healthy 138lb, large for Belizean standards; although jaguars further south on the continent are much larger. With Ben’s collar recording and transmitting his location via satellite every six hours, we discovered that his range covers an area of over 37,000 acres. Although he occasionally ventures into unprotected forests, Ben does not enter the neighboring villages or cattle farms, preferring instead to walk the sanctuary’s trails or alongside streams and rivers. Earlier this year, he made a three-day excursion into a citrus plantation two miles outside of his normal range. We are not sure why, perhaps he was trailing another female!
Recently, Ben’s GPS collar stopped transmitting the data, but thanks to our camera stations we continue to monitor him and know that he is doing well. When his collar automatically pops off in July, we’ll retrieve it and find out even more about Ben’s activities—and we’ll be sure to keep you posted!
Together with our in-country partners, we have collected data on over 100 individual jaguars in the Cockscomb Basin since 2003, learning much about their ecology and behavior as well as improving methods of monitoring jaguar populations.