Trekking in a protected area, my hopes and expectations balance each other to create a happy medium: if I can see evidence of the ecosystem’s health, and can believe that it supports the entire food chain, I get that biophilia sensation. I do not need to see the top of the food chain, which frequently is a big cat (tigers and leopards in India, jaguars and pumas in Latin America, lions and cheetahs throughout Africa) as much as I would want to. Or as much as I am elated, on days like today and yesterday, when I do see a healthy mature cat.
This photo above (taken October 29, 7:30 a.m.) may remind you of a blurry bigfoot image in one of those silly publications, but it is the real deal. I was on a hike yesterday morning with Amie, about a mile from the reception building of Chan Chich Lodge, when I spotted this cat about 200 yards ahead. I used my phone camera, maximizing the zoom to make the cat as visible as possible, which explains the blur.
This morning I hiked solo, without phone/camera, and just before 7:00 a.m., about three miles beyond the location where we saw the puma yesterday, I saw what was likely the same cat. This time we were within 80 yards of each other, and we both stood still looking at each other for a good two minutes. Then the cat just wandered off in the opposite direction along the road, and soon hopped off to the left and into the jungle.
These are the first views I have had of a puma at Chan Chich, and it is the first big cat I have seen in Belize while trekking (rather than out with our guides in a vehicle, which allows coverage of more ground). There have been an unusually high number of jaguars seen by guests and staff at Chan Chich Lodge in recent months; normally jaguar are considered the most elusive of the big cats but on a weekly basis they have been seen solo, in pairs, and in families with small cubs. Pumas have shown up less frequently on the chalk board by reception where these events are recorded each day.
But they are there. We hope you will consider a visit to Chan Chich Lodge, which helps support the conservation of 30,000 acres of wilderness within a larger nearly half million acre private conservation initiative.