My Time on the Reserve

April 21, 2018

As an intern of the Northern Jaguar Project, I found myself invited into a wilderness that defies expectation, and a community that carries the heavy weight of its preservation with rugged devotion.

It has been a month since I left the Northern Jaguar Reserve, and since then I have not stopped envisioning when I might return. I have found myself filling in my friends and family on what I have been up to, and I always look forward to seeing their faces when I tell them I spent two months on a jaguar reserve deep in one of the most remote wilderness areas of Sonora, Mexico. There is usually a short, stunned pause that follows this news along with an abundance of questions that I have on occasion lost my voice trying to answer.

What brings me the most joy are the stories I get to tell of my time there.

The more I tell these stories, the more I realize they are mostly about the people I met and engaged with – from the time I arrived in Hermosillo to be rescued by Santa to the day I left in a 4Runner packed with perfume professionals from Dryland Wilds. There were late night jaguar mural tours with Randy, many lessons and adventures with Miguel and Choco, and then there was camping with Laqui among the ghosts of Rancho Oro.

Every day was packed with memorable moments to hold on to and stories I won’t soon stop telling.

We would spend up to two weeks at a time on the reserve, camping, working, and hiking every day. Our primary focus was servicing all of the trail cameras, changing their position or the batteries and always collecting pictures. The cameras are spread all over the far reaches of the reserve, so we would hike deep into the wildest zones.

If we found animal tracks, we would study them and on occasion we would follow them. If we saw a unique bird, we would identify it. All of my interactions with the reserve’s flora and fauna steadily filled my journal. My naturalist’s checklist kept getting longer. It became difficult to keep up with all of the new information I desperately wanted to soak in.

My internship lasted two months, and during that time I became substantially tied into the land and the people that surrounded me in it. I still feel tied to the land, tied to the people, my friends. I miss it all, and I cannot wait until I have the opportunity to go back.

Aaron Van Geem graduated from Alderleaf Wilderness College, where he learned to interpret wildlife tracks and sign, as well as backcountry survival skills.

Motion-triggered bobcat photo from the Northern Jaguar Reserve