By Ben Anson
HAVANA TIMES – Honduras, is a nation teeming with an incredibly exciting variety of flora and fauna. From Whale Sharks in its Caribbean waters to crocodiles patrolling sprawling rivers and from the Mahogany trees found in dense forest to splendid coral reefs, there is an awful lot to promote and conserve if a nature enthusiast. Even if one is not, it should be made mandatory that all countries make a huge effort to protect their wildlife.
It seems perfectly clear that despite being a tourist hotspot famed for the abundance of Scarlet Macaws, which are raised and reintroduced into the wild by the workers over at Macaw Mountain Copan (the colonial town in which I currently reside) has done a decidedly poor job of protecting other creatures.
Everywhere you go in this town you will come across all manner of references to the great Jaguars, the treasured and highly respected felines of the ancient Maya. The ruins at Copan are – to quickly mention, the oldest-dating Mayan ruins existing.
The Jaguar quite obviously abounded in those times; elders, medicine men, warrior leaders and Mayan nobility (the most respected and revered of their society) all adorned Jaguar skin capes, belts and other such garments.
Even the emblem of the bilingual school in which I work is that of a Jaguar’s head. Painted Jaguars appear on murals all over the show, anything and everything from a hotel to a fancy coffee concoction is called a Jaguar this and a Jaguar that.
On first arriving here, I naturally inquired.
“Entonces los jaguares viven bien retirados en las montañas ¿cierto?”
“So the jaguars live far off into the mountains right?”
I posed this question to a Guatemalan tour guide who goes by the decidedly un-Guatemalan name of ‘Jacky’.
“¿Que jaguares Ben?”
“What jaguars Ben?”
She went on to inform me that there hadn’t been jaguars in Copan for years and years.
“Aquí solo hay tigrillos…”
I laughed. “Little tigers.” What’s a little tiger to a Central American?
“Solo son gatitos salvajes…” Wild cats apparently. Knowing Honduras they are probably only abandoned or lost domestic buggers who’ve gone feral.
So no Jaguars. No Pumas either I was told.
I asked around elsewhere. Hearing from various locals that there were most certainly no big cats, I reluctantly gave up on perhaps witnessing any wild felines and thus inquired upon the canine situation.
“There must be coyotes surely?”
“No… no coyotes.”
The best I heard came from an American colleague, who told me one night: “I haven’t seen any coyotes or predators but I did see some deer once at a coffee plantation in the early morning.”
It’s not that the deer and scarlet macaws are not beautiful creatures, yet I do think it is a great shame and in a way embarrassing that deep in the Mayan heartland such once sacred animals have been hunted to complete and utter extinction. I also consider it somewhat peculiar this local promotion of the Jaguar considering that aren’t any of them left…
There is a wonderful organization by the name of Pantera whose mission is to reestablish healthy populations of these majestic cats throughout what they refer to as the ‘Jaguar Belt’ which stretches from Mexico to Brazil. They have accomplished some fine work in other zones of Honduras and it surprises me that they have not attended their prolific efforts to an area like Copan.
Excessive hunting in Honduras is something which needed severe penalties a long, long time ago. It is still entirely possible to reestablish populations of certain creatures – therefore – severe penalties ought to be put into place.