Jaguar spots are etched in black ink on Reynold Cal’s lower arms. Tattooed on the left is the rose-shaped pattern found on Romeo, and on the right is that of Superman, names Cal gave to two of the big cats after watching them over the years on camera trap footage.
“Every jaguar has spots, but the spots are very unique to that individual,” he says. “You can identify a jaguar just by looking at its pattern.”
As a member of the Kekchi Maya, one of three Maya groups in Belize, in Central America, Cal grew up surrounded by forests, enchanted by tales of the sacred big cat that prowled within them.
Today, his job is to track and protect jaguars and other species in Runaway Creek Nature Reserve, a protected area of rainforest that is part of a key wildlife corridor in central Belize.
“The Mayas had a high reverence for the jaguar — it is a sign of royalty, of power, of strength,” he says. He recalls his grandfather telling him to respect the majestic mammal and never hunt it, and he remembers the fear he felt as a child when he saw jaguar tracks on the forest floor. “The reason I put these patterns (on my arms) is because I feel a connection to the ancient past,” he adds.
Lead Image: Jaguars once roamed from the south of the United States to southern Argentina, but in recent decades both their numbers and geographic range have declined. The Central American country of Belize is now considered one of the remaining strongholds. The big cats are notoriously elusive and hard to spot in the wild — pictured here is a jaguar from Belize Zoo.
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