A Jaguar Encounter

Series Producer Adam White recalls the moment he first came face to face with one of the most elusive predators on the planet.

You always remember the first time….especially if its unexpected.  I even remember her name, Borboletta, it means butterfly in Brazilian Portuguese.  My first close encounter with a Jaguar was definitely unexpected.

We had been looking for Giant Otters to film for the forthcoming trilogy Wild Brazil.  Four of us, in a tiny boat, travelling back to base down a small river, no wider than the average city street.  As well as myself, there was Nick, the series researcher, our guide and Brazilian wildlife photographer, Mauricio Copetti, and our boatman.

Our boat had taken on a little water, as these boats often do, and Mauricio and the boatman were busy pumping this water out.  Strange though it seems, you do this by pulling out a plug in the hull of the boat while you are going along.  The laws of physics remarkably suck the water out….but only while you are going along.

Nick, was lazily scanning the riverbank to his right.  I was watching the world go by on the left.  I was the only one looking left as the boat turned a sharp left round a bend in the river.  At this point, the dark shady river bank was no more than 2 or three metres from me.  Indeed, some of the vegetation brushed my hat.

Then as we turned the corner it felt as though my entire field of vision was overtaken by orange.  The most beautiful shade of orange I had ever seen.  There, lying on the bank by the waters edge, was a Jaguar.

I have been making wildlife films for almost 20 years.  I vividly remember in 1992 in the Bolivian Amazon, seeing a Jaguar’s footprint on top of my boot print.  Ever since then I have wanted to film the owner of those footprints.  I have been to South America many times since, always hoping to catch a glimpse.  For most of my career, filming a jaguar in the wild seemed an unattainable dream.

And now, here was a Jaguar, in the wild, and so close to me that I felt I could touch it.  What happened next is straight out of a comedy.

Not wanting to scare the Jaguar, I tried to keep quiet, and instead tried to tap Nick’s shoulder.  He informs me that I actually whacked him so hard he was momentarily cross with me.  That was until he turned his head and his world too, turned orange.

I then spun round to Mauricio who was with the boatman trying to drain the boat.  I think they were both as shocked as I was at the sight of the Jaguar, who at this stage was still lying motionless on the bank.  In the confusion that followed, the engine was cut, which meant two things.  one, the boat started taking on more water, as the engine was the thing that was powering the draining.  But more alarmingly, the boat started drifting TOWARDS the jaguar.

Having never seen a Jaguar ever before, I was unsure how this one would behave.  But as a general rule of thumb I try keep the distance between me and a predators head greater than the distance between that predators nose and its tail!  Now, in reality we never THAT close, but it certainly felt like it.

After what seemed like ages, the engine was started again, we hastily amouvred to the opposite bank and we grabbed hold of the overhanging trees. To our dismay, the jaguar, a female, got up and started walking towards the impenetrable undergrowth.  surely not.  please don’t let my first jaguar encounter be so brief.

But she did not disappear.  instead she merely walked a few leisurely paces before sitting back down and turned to face us.  we could not believe our luck. The plug was put back in the boat so we stopped sinking, the engine was cut once more and slowly we re-positioned ourselves to take a look at this mythical creature still no more than 20 yards away.

She was more beautiful than I could ever have imagined.  she had clear pale yellow eyes that were now looking straight at me through my binoculars.  she was looking directly at me.

Her spots were incredible.