There are a number of pinnacles in a trackers career, but little can come close to being the first to ever track and find mating jaguars in the Pantanal of Brazil. I was alongside Richard and Andrea, from the Tracker Academy, when they managed this incredible feat!
We found tracks of a female in the early hours of the morning. Her zigzag movements across the road were different from all other tracks we have inspected to date. From experience jaguars move quickly and directly in a straight line. They are the most focused cats I have had the experience of working with. Like enthusiastic policemen at a crime scene, we bowed our necks and scourged around for clues. All the senses put to the test.
A couple of hundred meters down a game path and another set of tracks had joined those that we were following.
We now had two sets of tracks: a female and a male. With a spring in their step, and an inspiring air of calm confidence, the trackers set to work. About an hour after the first track and they had found the telltale marks and signs of mating. You could clearly see in the sandy ground where the female had dug her claws in, and the male had mounted her. They had slept nearby recuperating from the arduous task.
As the bush got denser so we moved more slowly. At times we moved at a painful snails pace, but it was necessary as the sandy soil had long since been replaced by decaying leaf matter. Not only was it harder to stay on the tracks, but also to stay quiet was becoming near impossible.
I felt privileged to be walking behind these two trackers, I shadowed them taking the time to observe how they moved their bodies, where they looked and when they listened. The art of tracking was alive and kicking that morning. The day started to heat up, the mosquitoes intensified and the stomachs started rumbling, but the team never lost focus…
We got to a point where the tracks spiraled around in all directions. Andrea and Richard paused. Their sixth sense told them that we were very close. It was at this exact moment that we heard the unmistakable sound of cats mating. I have been lucky enough to hear it many times, with leopard and lion, but to hear this sound with jaguars was an entire new ball game.
We were on foot, and we were close…
We edged forward hoping to get a view of the jaguars. We could not have been more than fifty meters away when we heard them growl and run. They must have heard or seen us coming and decided to move away. We would not follow.
Our bodies eased and straightened up. Energy and excitement radiated. High fives and pats on backs were exchanged as we turned and began the long hike back to camp. Ear-to-ear grins advertised to the world that we had all just been a part of some of the greatest, and most rewarding tracking on the South American continent.
Written, photographed and filmed by Adam Bannister