Myths are what make a place interesting. They give it color and a sense of magic. In my recent stay in Cabuya, Costa Rica, I sometimes found it difficult to distinguish between myths and reality so I just accepted that they were one and the same. One of the myths I heard revolved around the largest cat in the Americas, the jaguar.
The Big Cat
Many of the locals in Cabuya told me that there was a jaguar that was six feet in length that roamed the dry forests of the area. This would be among the largest jaguars ever seen if their stories are true. My favorite story about a jaguar involves a strange man named “Tigre”, meaning jaguar or big cat in English. Tigre lived by himself in a house close to the middle of town. He had a large backyard that butted up against the mountain separating both sides of the Nicoya Peninsula.
The story goes that he would go out at night in his backyard and put bananas and avocados in his pants to lure a jaguar in. He reportedly did so to have romantic relations with the jaguar. I was never witness to any of this activity so I must rely solely on second-hand sources. Admittedly, the options for dating in this isolated town were few, but there are two major problems I have with this story. First, jaguars are strict carnivores and thus I cannot imagine why they would have any interest in a banana or avocado unless it was covered with deer scent. Also, if one could succeed in luring a jaguar into one’s backyard, the possibility of having intimate contact with a jaguar seems very slim.
The Threat and The Solution
The status of jaguars is near threatened and they are most likely going to become extinct within the next few decades. Most of the decline in jaguar populations is due to destruction of their habitat from logging and ranching. Poaching for their skins and competition with humans for food are also reasons for their decline. Jaguars are apex predators, which means that they eat a wide variety of species below them and the food chain and they have no predators other than humans. Jaguars are critical to maintaining the health and structural integrity of the forests they inhabit. The Jaguar Conservation Fund is an organization in central Brazil that does research on jaguars and is trying to help create corridors of habitat where jaguars can thrive.
The larger issue that envelops the survival of the jaguar is habitat destruction. We cannot hope to ensure of the survival of many species without increasing the amount of suitable habitat for wildlife. To do this requires effort on everyone’s part. We must educate people about why wildlife habitat is decreasing and expose the companies that are the major offenders of this destruction.