Barro Colorado Island in Panama, home of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute's premier tropical biology field station, has been described as the best-studied piece of tropical real estate in the western hemisphere. Although the island has been a mecca for biologists for nearly 90 years, no one has ever photographed an elusive island visitor, the jaguaruntil now.
Montclair State University zoologist Jackie Willis and her husband Greg mount cameras with infrared sensors on trees to photograph passing animals as part of their annual mammal census of the island, which they have been conducting since 1982. What the cameras captured April 20 was not only a surprise, but a firstan adult jaguar tripped the camera's sensor at 3:07 a.m., thus creating a self-portrait photograph.
"Our photo of a jaguar on Barro Colorado is a sign of hope," said Jackie Willis. "It proves jaguars are still in this area." Greg Willis spotted a jaguar on the island in 1983, but there have been very few sightings on Barro Colorado since.
The jaguar, a solitary carnivore, is the largest cat in the Americas. Adult males can weigh more than 300 pounds. Strong swimmers, jaguars tend to live near water and often prefer rainforests and seasonally flooded swamp areas. Historically, they ranged from the southern United States to northern Argentina. Habitat loss due to agriculture and urban sprawl has been a major threat to the species; and regardless of legal protection, people often shoot jaguars on sight, especially in areas with cattle ranches.
Researchers believe that this jaguar is a visitor from the mainland, 200 yards from the island at the closest point. Barro Colorado Island in Gatun Lakepart of the Panama Canalis only 25 miles from Panama City on the Pacific end of the canal and the city of Colon on the Atlantic end. Most of Panama's more than 3 million people live in these two cities. Two of the world's great biological hotspots meet in this area,
|Contact: Beth King|
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute