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  Field Notes From
Jaguars



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View Field Notes
From Author

Douglas H. Chadwick





View Field Notes
From Photographer

Steve Winter



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Steve Winter (top) and Sandra Cavalcanti
 

image: spider
In Latin America’s Jungles

Field Notes From Photographer
Steve Winter
I found a man in Belize who knew where to look for a jaguar for me to photograph, so he took me to a scratch tree that a particular cat routinely used to sharpen his claws. I set up a camera trap—a camera with three flashes and an infrared beam pointing down the trunk of the fallen tree—hoping that I would catch the jaguar scratching. I wanted the animal to take its own picture and capture a moment in its life. So I waited.
A few weeks later, I got my first picture when the cat broke the beam and tripped the shutter. It was beautiful. But when I studied the image later, it was a little overexposed.
Time was running out, and I wanted the perfect photograph, so I left my assistant in Belize to watch the camera trap and went to Brazil to look for more jaguars. Two weeks later we got the picture—in Belize. It couldn’t have been more perfect if I had stood there with my light and flash meters, set everything up, and asked the jaguar to hold that position. The first photograph was like a prelude to the perfect one.
I went back to Belize, wanting to see more of the jaguar in his own environment. So—still very high from the great pictures I got before—I moved all the cameras to one area, essentially putting all my eggs in one basket. But the jaguar never showed up.
I spent six weeks waiting there, wondering what happened to him and questioning whether I had done something wrong. I was sending film back to my editor, who wasn’t happy with it because there were no jaguars yet.
Later, a local biologist told us that about a mile away a male jaguar was shot when he followed his curiosity and strayed into a logging camp where men were sleeping. I was devastated and slowly got depressed. I had a lot riding on this.
I went out to call jaguars with Oélio Falcão de Arruda, who calls himself Fião and is the local warden for a Brazilian wildlife agency. Out in the middle of the Pantanal at dawn, he stuck his head in a bucket and made a howling sound to imitate a jaguar call. He called, and he called. We went down the road a bit and saw jaguar tracks, so we knew an animal was nearby. All of a sudden I turned around and not 30 feet (9 meters) away was a big jaguar just sitting there looking at us. He had probably been following us in the jungle, but we couldn’t hear him.
When I started photographing the cat, he walked off into the forest. A few minutes later he came back. We jumped in our truck and started following very slowly. He didn’t seem to mind; he just kept walking. Hunting is not allowed in the Pantanal, so the jaguar had never been threatened. Every time the beautiful cat came out, he turned his head just long enough for me to get off a few frames.


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