Wildlife Travel: Jaguars
Catching a glimpse of the majestic jaguar in its native habitat is a dream for many wildlife enthusiasts. This powerful animal is the third largest of the big cats and is occasionally sighted in the United States. However, the jaguar is primarily found in Mexico, across Central America, south to Paraguay and in northern Argentina.
Belize, a beautiful English-speaking country located along the Caribbean coast between Mexico and Guatemala, is another location where jaguars reside. This country, formerly known as British Honduras, offers lush forests, beautiful mountain ranges, and Maya temples – and along the Belizean lowland forests and coasts stalks the jaguar in search of the plentiful prey that lives in this tropical climate.
The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve
The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve in Belize, established in 1984, is the only one of its kind in the world. It encompasses more than 100,000 acres of tropical forest that was set aside by the Belizean government in order to protect the large numbers of jaguar residing there. Officials estimate that more than 200 jaguars are roaming free within the borders of the sanctuary – the largest concentration of jaguars anywhere in the world.
These animals are masters at not being seen and some visitors to the preserve are disappointed when they don’t catch sight of a jaguar. Although people do occasionally glimpse one of these elusive creatures it takes a combination of patience and luck. One way to increase the odds of seeing a jaguar is to stay overnight in the sanctuary, even better is to remain for several nights or employ the services of a local guide.
Another good bet is to visit the preserve on a cool, cloudy day when the animals are particularly energetic. Hiking in the dense forest or near the swamps at dawn or dusk may also increase the chances of spotting a jaguar as this is when they are most active. Many visitors have also discovered that touring the Jaguar Preserve during the rainy season from June to November, is the best way to see wildlife.
How to Get There
To reach the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve turn at the Maya Center Village off of the Southern Highway. It is difficult to see this turn off as it is not clearly marked. Once there, registration at the Maya Center is required. It is then several miles into jungle before you reach the visitor center.
Other Activities and Entrance Fee
In addition to searching for jaguar’s visitors to the Cockscomb Basin may also enjoy camping, kayaking, canoeing and swimming. Fodor’s recommends packing along the bug spray to repel both mosquitoes and biting insects called “no-see-ums”. They also recommend wearing long sleeved shirts, long pants and hiking in the early morning or late afternoon in order to avoid the high tropical temperatures.
The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve is open Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm and costs $10.