May 8, 2015
This month, we traveled with a group from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum who were visiting the Northern Jaguar Reserve to become familiar with jaguar habitat in arid lands. During their stay, they made a list of the different plants they encountered. They found a species of nettle, Tragia nepetifolia, that is impossible to walk past without noticing. If you brush up against this plant while walking through the grass, it provokes a very intense and lasting itch. It is generally advisable, if you recognize it, to avoid walking in places where you see this plant.
On their first day at the reserve, Jesus García and Sergio Ávila found a skeleton of a deer that had been killed by a mountain lion. They were able to trace back to the skeleton after they saw a turkey vulture flying off with a piece of meat in its talons. Although it is not unusual to see deer carcasses on the reserve, we do not normally find fresh kills. They were very lucky!
One day while we were checking the motion-triggered cameras, one of our visitors made some positive comments about the work we are doing and how we work well together despite the fact that we come from different areas of Mexico with different cultures. Saúl comes from Aguascalientes, I am from southern Sonora, and Laqui is from Sahuaripa. Instead of being an obstacle, these differences in background are actually a benefit. We have been able to achieve a harmonious, efficient, and enjoyable way of working together where we learn from one another.
Our visitors were able to see a large part of the reserve. One day, we went to Dubaral to show them the place with the most jaguar photos. They learned how to program the cameras and were very interested in our project. We shared more information about Naturalia and how it is an independent nonprofit organization rather than government funded. The Desert Museum staff said they would share NJP and Naturalia’s work with their patrons to increase visibility for our organizations.
Saúl and Randy accompanied the Desert Museum visitors back to Sahuaripa while Laqui and I stayed to continue checking cameras. We did not have many wildlife sightings; the majority of our sightings were birds, including Wilson’s warbler, phainopepla, and gray hawk. We also found a canyon wren nest. When Saúl returned a few days later, he told us that they had seen two military macaws flying close to the La Ventana house.
Once we completed our camera work on the reserve, we went to the Viviendo con Felinos ranches – where we had an opportunity to observe a gray hawk hunting. The hawk flew down close to the road and was behind some bushes, which made it difficult for us to see what was happening. As we came closer, we could see a snake in the hawk’s talons. The hawk immediately flew off, grasping its prey. It was very fast! These sorts of happenings are exciting, and we felt privileged to have witnessed this.
Every once in a while we skip our daily walks, especially at El Saucito where the rancher usually lends us horses to check the cameras on his property. Julio Monje, the rancher at El Sapo, told me something interesting this month. Ranchers outside the Viviendo con Felinos project have asked him why he supports NJP and Naturalia. He has not had any problems with feline attacks on his cattle this year, and other ranchers in the community believe he is not telling the truth when a jaguar or mountain lion preys on his livestock. He told me that last year there was only one calf killed by a feline.
Julio was one of the first ranchers to enroll in Viviendo con Felinos and his experience with large carnivores has helped him realize that it benefits his cattle not to kill prey species. I have told other ranchers that the best proof on Julio’s ranch is that each month we obtain photos showing us that many large predators exist. These predators are not attacking cattle but rather their natural prey, deer and javelina. We can see the importance of conserving large predators in order to maintain a strong ecological balance. My experience talking with and listening to Julio, as someone who previously had negative ideas about felines and has changed his way of thinking, inspires me to keep working in the conservation field.
Javier Valenzuela Amarillas has worked on the Northern Jaguar Reserve and Viviendo con Felinos ranches since 2012. As a jaguar guardian, he helps maintain an extensive network of motion-triggered cameras, inventory the ecological health of the land and water, and work with ranchers to support local wildlife.