Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 9

Hunting a Jaguar

The Third Attempt, Part 1

Early in April 1907, when I had recovered from the poison, I returned to Oruro, getting there in time for the great Indian Market at Juare. I bought five fresh cargo mules at the market, and engaged a man, his son, wife and daughter to cook for me and look after the camp as far as Cochabamba. The women rode on two donkeys. At Cochabamba I discharged them, and picked up Manuel’s son and another man to look after the mules and horse, and his daughter to cook and look after the camp on the way, and arrived at Mendizabal’s place at Cuti on May 4th.

Mendizabal had bad news, old José Maria Ampuera was dead. He had gone down one day with a sheep for the two caretakers at Sacambaja, who signalled to him not to cross the river, as it was too high. He insisted, and in mid-stream his horse lost its footing, and was taken off its legs by the current, but managed to get ashore with the old man on his side of the river. He rode back to his home, got fever that night and died of the effects a few days after. He was 110 years old, according to his own reckoning, but Mendizabal said he was probably older. He was a little deaf, but, otherwise, had all his faculties about him; all his teeth were in good order, and he had never been to a dentist in his life; he could eat ship’s biscuits without soaking them, and take a tot of rum without showing it. He used often to ride down from Cuti with a sheep for me, and go down the river next day another nine leagues to get bananas, oranges, pines and other things. But for this accident he would probably have lived some years longer.

Mendizabal’s Indians now begged him not to ask them to go down and work at the Caballo Cunco Hill. They said it was so unhealthy that many would die, and if they were to die they preferred to die in their own homes. Three of the eight men that had worked there last year had died, and the dead nigger hill was exactly opposite. They told him they would go anywhere else for him, or his English friend, but implored him not to ask them to work down there. However, I went down with Manuel and his family and all the gear, and Manuel and I went up the hill and worked alone most days, while his wife and daughter attended to the camp, and the boys stayed with the mules. The weather was perfect, eighty-two degrees at 1 p.m., and seventy degrees at 8 p.m., and I sent Manuel up to tell Mendizabal, who soon came down with the priest and his two head men. They stayed a week cattle hunting, and tried their best to convince the Indians that last year was a phenomenal year, and probably we should not have one like it for a long time; but it was no use, they could not be persuaded. Mendizabal then decided to send a letter to his friend Solis at Palca, who owned a big estancia, some leagues from there with over a hundred families of colonias. In the meantime, there was nothing to do, but wait.

I often tried to find one of those bears with a tail that Mendizabal said existed here. Several times I saw the track of what he said were tree bear, but I never even saw one.

On 4th June Mendizabal sent me down a note, saying there were jaguars (or tigers as he called them) about again; that the night before they had killed three mules and a colt, four miles further down the river from where I was, and that they had laid down poison.

Three days later he wrote again that the poison was no good; they never touched the carcasses again, but killed another of his mules and four of the Indians’ llamas. He said he had laid down more poison.

Next day came another note saying that they never touched the poison, but had gone further up my way, that there were several, and the tracks showed big footprints, and smaller ones which looked like two lots. He promised to come up next week and get up a hunt.

A few days later the cattle came out of the forest, and remained about the beach, showing that jaguars or pumas were disturbing them, and soon an Indian came from down the river, and told me that if I came with him for a mile or so along the beach he would show me the track of several pumas. I went along, and he pointed them out, but I told him I thought the pads looked too big for the pumas, and were more like jaguars, the larger ones anyway. That evening about nine o’clock, we heard animals moving in the bush, on the other side of the stream. Manuel looked carefully out, and saw what he thought was a big jaguar gazing over at the fires; he pointed it out to me, and soon after it moved off. I got the rifle and sat near the kitchen fire, but I did not see anything again. In the morning we found several tracks on the edge of the forest on the beach, only thirty yards from the fires. They were spoor of jaguars right enough, there had been at least two of them. In the morning the cattle were still on the beach, showing that jaguars were still about, and in the afternoon Mendizabal, his son, and ten of his men arrived with several dogs, and pitched his tent near mine. He had poisoned the dead animals, but the jaguars had left them entirely alone, whether by instinct, or because they were not hungry, I do not know. That night at about 10, when we were just thinking of turning in, and were sitting with our rifles by the fire watching the edge of the forest, on chance of anything appearing, a big fellow showed himself about seventy yards off. We could make out the form, but not the colour as, although the night was clear and the moon bright, he was in the shadow on the outside of the forest. I had a shot at the body of the beast, and he turned round sharply, and entered the bush again. We both thought he was hit with the ounce ball, and in the morning we found marks of blood in his track. Quite near the place where we saw the jaguar, we came across the dead body of a big black cow, which had been killed and partly eaten by the beasts. We cut her up, and appropriated all the meat, deciding that it was of no use to poison it, as experience had shown that the jaguars would not return to poisoned meat. The Indians then followed up the spoor of the wounded jaguar, and we told them to be careful, and return if they saw that he had gone into the thick of the forest. They came back and said that he had gone into the forest, and must have been badly hit. In the afternoon the Indians and the dogs went along a path at the edge of the forest, which the wounded animal had made for last night, while Mendizabal and I waited about a mile further down in an open spot, the other side of an arm of the Sacambaja. Nothing came out and soon the jaguar was found dead by the Indians. It was a well marked male, in very good condition, and measured 7ft. 11ins. when skinned. A week afterwards the Indians found another jaguar, a female, that had been shot by some one else, and brought me the skin. It was smaller than the other, but a better colour, and measured 7ft. 7ins. I have still got both of these skins. Next day Mendizabal and his men left.


One thought on “Hunting a Jaguar

  1. Well, there’s an unfortunate turn of phrase. This was the only time Prodgers used that particular racial epithet in the book, and at least it was in a neutral manner, but it’s still an unwelcome reminder of a very different age.

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