Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Ecotourism or Ecoterrorism? A Big Cats Tale #Jaguar

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Jaguar - Ecotourism or Ecoterrorism?

When managed well ecotourism can do wonders for wildlife and their environment, but when the thirst for money outweighs welfare it's a slippery slope. I was unfortunate to experience this when I visited the Pantanal. For the best part of three weeks I saw jaguar every day. In fact, we saw them so often that we didn't film unless the light was perfect - it was a real privilege so spend so much time watching the worlds third biggest cat, and undoubtedly one of the worlds most beautiful animals. Sadly this was not to last...

(Photo: Paul Williams)
(Photo: Paul Williams)
(Photo: Paul Williams)

Ecotourism or Ecoterrorism? A personal account

It was August and adults were roaming their territories on the look out for a mate. We had found the perfect place to see them - along the banks where three slowly meandering rivers merged. If we sighted a jaguar we would keep our distance and head for the opposite bank (the camera lens focal distance was up to 1000mm). This was for our own safety and to do everything we could to prevent our presence from influencing their behaviour - our goal is to observe wildlife and not to direct it. Tourist boats would spot us and realise that a jaguar had been sighted, they would slow down and for the most part all would remain hushed and respectful. Many of these people are keen and experienced wildlife watchers. Sadly, egos and derterminism were to get the better of some of them, and much of the blame lies with the boat drivers. As the numbers of boats increased they became more aggressive towards one another, cutting each other up to get closer and closer until they were too close for comfort. This would often result in blocking the path of a jaguar who was trying to cross the river. My cameraman called this 'ecoterrorism'.

Our guide said that many of these boat drivers had no training in good practice and did not realise, or care about how there behaviour influenced the animals. It is likely that were paid more money to go closer. While this area is officially protected it is not officially policed and so it is down to common courtesy and an unwritten code between guides. With more companies setting up in the area this code seems to have been lost amongst many but the old guard.

Four Jaguar Fighting

Early one morning we spotted four jaguar close together - a female and three large, but immature, males. We knew that something special could happen. We slowly pulled up on the opposite bank and waited. The air was electric, we were tense with anticipation. Sure enough the jaguar started fighting. Powerful and majestic, it was something that we could have only dreamed of filming and would look sublime in slow motion.

Unfortunately, no sooner had we started rolling than did an armada of 10 tourist boats zip, at full throttle, into view. Their giant lenses and heads jutting into our frame as they rapidly encroached on the unsuspecting felines. They blocked our view of this rarely observed behaviour and in so doing denied the pleasure of this spectacle to the worlds wildlife TV audience.

From that moment on we rarely saw jaguar again. I believe that the cats had found the event so stressful that they decided to move on.

Everyone has the right to experience nature and wildlife, but the organisations and companies who manage this have a responsibility to ensure that the welfare of the wildlife is paramount.

Tourists block a female jaguar from crossing the river (Photo: Paul Williams)

 Jaguar fight as tourists creep too close for comfort (Photo: Paul Williams)