Rafael Hoogesteijn, a respected veterinarian and jaguar biologist whose 1992 book "The Jaguar" is still one of the classic natural-history books on the species, now works with Panthera in the Brazilian Pantanal. As of this writing, he has had 79 jaguar encounters with up to four jaguars seen together at once. Twenty-two of the encounters occurred while he was walking alone and unarmed or when he approached a jaguar from a car, bicycle, motorcycle, or horse (other encounters involved boats, helicopters, and captures). During these encounters, each of which lasted up to 20 minutes, he followed jaguars traveling and watched them mating. Only once did Rafael feel threatened.
While following approximately 30 meters (99 feet) behind a male jaguar that was following a female in heat, the animal suddenly turned, roared, and charged straight at him, teeth barred, ears back, and nape hairs erect. Rafael stood his ground and the jaguar stopped 10 to 15 meters (33 to 38 feet) away, then turned and disappeared into the nearby river. Perhaps this was a bluff, or what Rafael called "a mock attack." Perhaps, had Rafael turned and run, the outcome might have been different. Clearly the jaguar must have felt threatened and reacted explosively, but then it reassessed the situation and made the decision to stand down. Killing or hurting Rafael would have accomplished nothing for the animal, except perhaps injury to itself.
I had a similar experience to that of Rafael while watching a big male jaguar recover from sedative after I had captured and radio collared it during my work in Belize. I had laid the jaguar back in an open trap to recover, waiting nearby to ensure that no other jaguar came and injured the immobilized animal. Worried that the jaguar was taking too long to wake up, I walked to the side of the trap and poked him in his hindquarters with a stick. Suddenly, a clear-eyed jaguar looked directly into my face, leapt up, and was out of the trap in seconds. As I sprinted for the safety of my truck a short distance away, the jaguar chased after me. Realizing I could not outrun the jaguar, I turned and screamed "NO!" with all the energy I could muster and with no reason to think that this would stop the charging predator. Yet, the jaguar did stop, the anger of the moment dissipated, and he turned calmly towards the jungle. Clearly, this drugged and newly collared jaguar had cause for dismay, even retribution. Still, he walked away.
A jaguar crawling under a cattle fence during the night in order to move through a cattle ranch in the corridor. (Photo by Steve Winter, Panthera.)