WE were hiking through the woods of the Cockscomb Basin Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve in Belize, the more-than-150-square-mile verdant reserve that is a no-hunting haven for many species of this hemisphere’s wild cats — the puma, ocelot, jaguarundi, margay and jaguar. As we moved along well-tended trails, there were signs of activity — muddy paw prints by a riverbank, bits of jaguar scat — but we were unlikely to actually see any of these magnificent creatures.
“They don’t like to get too close to humans,” said our guide, Dr. Rebecca Foster, a staff scientist with the conservation group Panthera. “I hope you’re not disappointed.”
How could we be? Even without a jaguar sighting, the sanctuary was a gorgeous Eden, full of natural wonders. Giant ferns lined the trails. Above us, howler monkeys scampered through the trees, and parrots and toucans glided through the air. Moving quietly, one might catch a glimpse of a deer or pig-like peccary — the jaguar’s preferred prey. After a few hours at Cockscomb, it felt as if we had stepped, full body, into a Henri Rousseau painting.