The night drive is one of the most popular tours at Chan Chich Lodge because it is arguably the best opportunity for spotting a jaguar, ocelot, margay, or puma. Of the four forest cats, last night our tour group was fortunate to see the beloved jaguar.
The drive started at 7:30pm. Eight of us climbed up the back of the truck and took our seats along the cushioned benches facing out to the road. We were instructed by Luis, our tour guide, to look for “eyes,” and thereafter, the truck rumbled to a start and Luis began to point his flashlight in all directions, up at the tree branches and down at the forest undergrowth. The aftermath from Hurricane Earl was evident as the truck drove between broken tree stumps and overhanging branches, but this also allowed wildlife to appear in places that it had not been seen before.
The first sighting was a Mexican redrump tarantula, close to a swollen riverbank. Not my favorite type of “wildlife” to observe for the beginning of an evening tour but an impressive animal nonetheless. Among the feathery, more charming species we saw were a Barn Owl, Boat-billed Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Common Pauraque, and a Yucatan Nightjar. The four-legged wildlife we saw were the white tailed deer, a Morelete’s crocodile, an agouti and of course, our most precious, jaguar.
As we neared the end of the tour and the truck was heading back to the lodge Luis suddenly said, “Jaguar!” Along the road in front of us, a lean figure paced away from the truck, its curved black tail swaying slightly from side to side with each step. The cat paused briefly and turned around to face the headlights and its powerful gaze glimmered in the light. We followed the jaguar for almost ten minutes, with intervals of stopping the truck and observing the jaguar stride along and then following it after it had traveled a distance away.
Exhilaration coursed through my body for the ten minutes we followed the jaguar and for the subsequent hour after the encounter. I consider the sighting extremely lucky because we were able to view the jaguar for more than just a brief glimpse. We were able to admire its elegant walk, its spotted fur, and its graceful authority.