Sipping a mug of steaming black coffee, I listened carefully to the soft-spoken voice of the two-meter-tall (six-and-a-half-foot), 60-year-old rancher and professional puma hunter, Warner Glenn, as he recounted the details of the nearly year-old incident that had thrust this remote backwater region into the national news, and would eventually be memorialized in his book Eyes of Fire. The result of this incident, and the reason for my trip from New York, was the first photograph ever taken of a living wild jaguar in the United States.
At the break of dawn, we rode mules up into the stark, remote Peloncillo Mountains and topped the bluff where Warner had faced the jaguar. I sat there on the horse and took from my pocket the picture that Warner had given me. Poised majestically atop the rocky outcrop now facing us, the jaguar stared directly into the camera. There was no indication of the surprise and confusion likely felt by this animal that, having made its way across the nearby Mexican border, was now being chased by a pack of howling hound dogs like an illegal immigrant trying to flee a sudden confrontation with the border patrol. Only in this case the pursuer was Warner Glenn. Thinking that his dogs were after a puma, Warner was perhaps more surprised than the jaguar when, upon sighting what he later described as the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, he rushed back to his mule to get the camera he kept in a saddle pouch, never considering going for the gun he had close by.
We followed the jaguar's route down from the bluff to the spot where it was cornered by Warner's hounds again. Only this time, with the jaguar desperate, Warner moved in too close for another photograph. The jaguar lunged towards him, but only enough to create an opportunity to make its escape again. Warner's last view of the jaguar was, as he described it, "heading south at a long trot."
I stayed back while the others rode ahead, looking over the expanse of dry, open, empty lands where Warner said the jaguar had last been seen. I imagined the jaguar stalking the steep, rocky terrain of this area in its search for food, water, another jaguar-a home. There were not supposed to be any jaguars still living and breeding in the United States since the early to mid-1900s . . . but were there? Warner's jaguar was never again seen north of the border. But it had already made history. And this lone cat was about to ignite a controversy between ranchers, conservationists, and the United States federal government that no one, least of all Warner, could have foreseen at the time.
Jaguar track found during ground-truthing survey along the northern coast of Honduras. (Photo: Steve Winter, Panthera)