The largest big cat in the Americas, the jaguar (Panthera onca), is thriving in the forests that flank the Tambopata River and which lie within the Tambopata National Reserve and its buffer zone, including the Tambopata Private Conservation Area where we work to conserve and protect a corner of the Amazon basin.
Over the past three years, in a sign of the good health of the forests of Tambopata, jaguar sightings have increased, and many travelers have been fortunate enough to spot this magnificent animal from our boats during the excursions we offer into this pristine wilderness area, and even from our Tambopata Ecolodge’s private jetty, as they cross the river.
Jaguars once hunted freely across the Americas from northern Mexico to northeastern Argentina, and they were revered by indigenous peoples for their grace, power and strength. But as human populations have expanded, this big cat has seen its natural habitat dwindle, and the forests it roamed fragmented by roads, ranches, farms and mining operations.
Habitat loss from advancing human activity is the main threat faced by this big cat with no natural predators. But in protected natural areas like the Tambopata National Reserve, the jaguar has found a refuge, safe from the multiple dangers posed by the ongoing encroachment of the modern world.
As one of the apex predators of Latin America’s rainforests, the jaguar fulfills an essential role in the maintenance of tropical forest ecosystems. Where jaguars are lost, the entire food chain is affected, leading to overpopulation among those creatures normally preyed upon by jaguars, and a consequent disruption to the harmony of life in the forest.
With conservationists increasingly concerned about how the expansion of agricultural and extraction activities in the Amazon are leading to more road building and accelerated destruction, havens like the Tambopata National Reserve are more important than ever before.
A more recent threat to jaguar numbers throughout South America is the rise in jaguar trafficking. In Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Suriname, traffickers capture and kill jaguars for their teeth, skin and bones, to satisfy a growing demand fueled by Chinese traditional medicine practices.
In the Tambopata area, conservation efforts supported by ecotourism initiatives like our own have led to increases in populations of the jaguar’s preferred prey. Jaguars will hunt for peccaries, capybaras and tapirs, as well as other mammals, and all these species are abundant in our remote corner of southeastern Peru’s Amazon basin.
Jaguars are adept swimmers and will readily take to the water in pursuit of their prey. During the excursions we offer into the forests of Tambopata, the best time to see jaguars is when traveling by boat on the Tambopata River. During your own rainforest vacation, look out for this majestic creature on the river’s beaches and among the vegetation growing at the water’s edge.