Notes from the Field: A close encounter at Villa Carmen Biological Station

March 21, 2013

On a Sunday morning hike this February, ACA Science Director Dr. Adrian Tejedor and others had the privilege of an exciting wildlife encounter at ACA’s Villa Carmen Biological Station. Located in the Manu Biosphere Reserve, the station hosts a wide variety of habitats and is esteemed for its diverse flora and fauna – including big cats! 

Today five of us – Nicole, Timo, Simeon, Erick, and I – went to retrieve camera trap cards, GPS a new trail, and look for fruits and gingers. Barely a kilometer from the house, along the western ridge, we came face to face with a group of white-lipped peccaries. We all went dead silent and stood behind spindly trees, one per person, while the 20 to 30 peccaries in the group, most of them juveniles, circled us in a surprisingly quiet disorder. A large adult came barely a meter away from my feet. This made me a little worried, but it smelled me, rattled its teeth briefly, and sprinted away. I looked up to the trail to check for more peccaries but saw instead a big, muscular jaguar trotting nonchalantly behind a couple of peccaries that lagged behind. It was obvious that my companions had seen it, too, because our collective silence became deader still.

The jaguar kept on coming closer until it was in full view, in the middle of the wide trail, some 8 meters away from us. Amazingly, it had neither seen nor smelled us. It turned to its left and showed us a rich golden flank that shone under a shaft of soft light. Oblivious to us, it pounced, rather unenthusiastically, on a straggling peccary but missed it and veered back toward the trail precisely in our direction. We watched in awe how the big cat walked on through the brush, coming straight at us, and closing in on us, as if we had turned invisible. The tension rose steeply; the approach seemed unsustainable. Either the jaguar or we had to give way. When it was, unbelievably, only two meters from us, it froze in its tracks, looked Nicole straight in the face – Nicole saw that it had cloudy eyes, like a dog with cataracts – and puffed out of sight with an explosive backward jump. A split second later, we erupted in celebration and triumphant hugs. (Text by Adrian Tejedor, photo from camera trap located at Villa Carmen Biological Station)