Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 8

The Black Panther

The Second Attempt, Part 3

One morning soon after daylight, a fine-looking mule came and stood outside my tent, I put a rope halter on him, and tied him up to a tree, and a few hours after, the owner came up on another mule with two Indians. He thanked me profusely for catching his mule, but asked me how I managed to put the halter on. I told him it had been quite easy, as I had found him standing outside the tent early in the morning. He then told me that the mule had never yet been handled, and was one of a hundred mules and horses he had bought for his farm, at the yearly sale of animals, held on the shores of Lake Titicaca. This mule and another one had strayed away from his camp three days ago, and he said he was sure the other one had been killed by a jaguar, and this one, seeing my camp, came and stayed for protection. After taking some refreshment, he and his men left the mule I had caught with me, and followed up its spoor to look for the other. Next day about 2 p.m. they returned, having found the second mule killed, and partly eaten, in the forest to the north of the River Sacambaja. Two nights after this occurrence, I was awakened in the night by a stampede of cattle in the forest, the other side of the stream, where my drinking water came from. In the morning I counted twenty head of cattle on the beach, the other side of the Cato River, which showed that jaguars or pumas had come up from the forest below. The following day I was gathering wood near the camp, and just as I got to the tent I looked up, and saw a magnificent black panther, or puma, walking slowly along the beach on the south side of the river Sacambaja. I rushed into the tent and got my rifle, and just managed to fire a hurried shot at the beast as he was entering the forest. I put the sight at three hundred yards, and missed him; the bullets seemed to strike the ground some few yards behind. I was sorry, for he was rather a rare specimen of the black panther, I think. He was too big for a puma. I examined the beech for signs and saw the spoor of three or four jaguars or pumas, and came across a big fat cow which they had killed near the forest, close to my fresh-water stream on the other side. As it was just then clear moonlight every night, I sat up and watched on this side of the stream, just opposite the cow, for five nights. The only thing I saw was a big brown fox, with a splendid brush, which, one night after I had been waiting for an hour, appeared, stopped, looked at me for a minute and trotted off. He was certainly the biggest fox I had ever seen, and could easily have been shot, but I let him go for two reasons: first, because I was waiting for larger game, and second, because no one who had ridden with the Duke’s pack would have thought of doing such a thing. After five days, the cattle left the beach, and returned to their feeding ground, which showed that the jaguars and pumas had gone too. I was now more careful about my two big fires, which were kept going night and day, one in front of my tent door, and the other near the kitchen; they served two purposes, to frighten off any wild animals, and to keep the camp cheery and warm at nights. One morning after breakfast, I was on the edge of the cliff, half-way up the Treasure Hill, taking a look at the surrounding country, to see if anyone was coming my way, when I saw an Indian come out of the forest on the south side of the River Sacambaja, walk along the beach, and cross the river to my side. Thinking he had come from Mendizabal with a message for me, I did not hurry back, but walked slowly down. When I got to the stream, I saw the Indian calmly walking off with a big load of my charque (dried beef) on his back. I shouted to him, but he took no notice, and hurried on faster across the first arm of the river; so I took my rifle from the tent, and fired two shots at him. I did not want to kill him, and deliberately fired a few yards wide of the mark, which answered the purpose. He dropped the charque and a good long llama wool rope as well, and when I fired two more shots for luck he ran as hard as he could along the beach, and disappeared into the forest at the other side, while I carried back my beef and his rope.