I am very pleased to present this Q&A with Richard Mahler (seen here searching for jaguars in Panama) , the author of the just released book The Jaguar’s Shadow: Searching for a Mythic Cat. I think you will enjoy this quite a bit and I personally am looking forward to reading Richard’s book. Thanks Richard!!
Q&A WITH RICHARD MAHLER, AUTHOR OF “THE JAGUAR’S SHADOW: SEARCHING FOR A MYTHIC CAT”
1. Please tell us a little about your background.
Except for short stints as a full-time magazine editor and radio newsman, I’ve been a freelance writer and journalist my entire adult life. Among many other things, I’ve been a TV critic for National Public Radio, an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, an election-night news anchorman, a ghostwriter for corporate executives, a communications director for an environmental organization, and a co-founder of a bilingual radio station. I’ve written 10 published books, including travel guides to Belize, Guatemala, New Mexico, Santa Fe, and Palm Springs. I work part-time as a tour guide and as a teacher of mindfulness-based stress reduction. I grew up in the West and have lived in New Mexico for 21 years. Since early 2007 I’ve been in Silver City, the largest town in a mountainous region where jaguars occurred until at least 1902, and possibly as recently as the 1990s.
2. How did you become interested in jaguars?
I’m one of those people who long has been fascinated by every kind of feline. I owned a dog as a kid, but cats made a more lasting impression. Many years ago, during the 1970s, I learned that jaguars were indigenous to the United States, a fact that both startled and intrigued me. During a 1987 trip to Belize I visited the world’s first sanctuary set up specifically to protect wild jaguars. This whetted my appetite for learning more about this species, which I did in order to include a section about jaguars in my natural history guidebook to Belize, first published in 1991. Five years later I read a newspaper account of Warner Glenn’s remarkable sighting of a jaguar along the New Mexico-Arizona border and got excited about Panthera onca all over again.
3. What was the catalyst for you to write The Jaguar’s Shadow?
I was standing in a long and slow-moving line of people, in New York’s Times Square, just killing time while waiting to buy tickets to a Broadway show. It was June 17, 2003. I bought that day’s edition of the New York Times, which had an article about jaguar conservation. It struck me that this animal would be a wonderful topic for a book. I discovered that the popular literature about jaguars was very thin. Within six weeks I’d written a proposal and submitted it to my literary agent, but it would be another six years before the completed book was published.
4. Where did you travel in search of jaguars for the book?
I made several trips to the border regions of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. I spent a short time in the northwestern Sierra Madre of Mexico, around Nácori Chico, Sonora. Earlier I went to the Lacandón rainforest and Usumacinta River watershed shared by Guatemala and Mexico. I’ve been many times to Guatemala’s Petén and throughout Belize, including several jaguar research stations in remote locales. I spent a week on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, home of Corcovado National Park, and various rainforests near the Panama Canal. I also have explored parts of Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Ecuador, although those trips were not specifically for this book.
5. What was your first glimpse of a wild jaguar like?
I’d prefer to let the book answer this question. But perhaps the most thrilling encounter was hearing a wild jaguar for the first time, in the small hours of a steamy night at Belize’s Cockcomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. I walked outside to relieve my bladder and heard a jaguar roaring, very close by. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep the rest of that night.
6. Was there a most memorable incident during your jaguar research?
I spent a cold, restless night in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses much of the Altar Valley immediately north of the U.S.-Mexico border. It was late January, with snow falling on the nearby hillsides. I was naive to think I could camp out this close to the frontier and not be disturbed by U.S. Border Patrol agents and Mexican drug traffickers. Neither group knew what to make of a guy without a weapon who claimed he was looking for a jaguar.
7. Who are some of the scientists you worked with for the book?
In the U.S., I had cooperation from Emil McCain, Sergio Ávila, Peter Warshall, Roberto Águilar, David E. Brown, Kevin Hansen, Charlie Luthin, Ron Thompson, and Bill Van Pelt. In Mexico: Gerardo Ceballos and Octavio Rosas-Rosas. In Guatemala: Roan Bolas McNab and Anthony Novack. In Belize: Carolyn and Bruce Miller, Carol Farneti Foster, Chris Hatten, Ryan Phillips, Sharon Matola, Celso Poót, Bart Harmsen, and Rebecca Foster. In Brazil: Peter Crawshaw, Jr. In Costa Rica: Eduardo Carrillo. Alan Rabinowitz, now at Panthera, was both a helpful resource and a terrific inspiration.
8. Do you see a future for jaguars in the US?
It won’t be easy, particularly in view of the increased border activity and population growth. So this is impossible to predict, in part also because we can’t estimate the potential impacts of global warming, habitat fragmentation, and prey declines. I believe the U.S. can potentially provide a welcoming habitat for jaguars for years to come, but will they get here safely from Mexico? Can they successfully breed here on their own, with such infinitesimal numbers? As for relocation or captive breeding, I don’t foresee it happening during my lifetime, and I’m 58 years old.
9. What does the jaguar represent to you?
Strength. Intelligence. Adaptation. Beauty. Mystery. Independence. Conservation. Fearlessness. Our future relationship with wild nature.
10. Anything else you’d like to add?
Like other large predators that range widely and occur in low densities, jaguars present a host of challenges to human beings. I’ll name just three. First, their survival depends on our ability to manage our own behavior, which is always problematic. Second, they need linkage between habitats in order to ensure ongoing genetic diversity, and that presents a conundrum. Third, the fact that jaguars are secretive, nocturnal, and live in remote areas makes it very difficult to enforce laws against hunting them or trading in their body parts.