Jaimee's Adventure in Panama Jungles

I have recently spent time in Panama, volunteering with an organisation called Kaminando that studies jaguars in the Mamoni valley preserve. Kaminando is the first organisation to study jaguars in this region of Panama and the data they are collecting is vitally important to jaguar conservation. The jaguar’s geographical distribution is all the way from Mexico to Argentina, and Panama is an important segment, allowing Jaguars to move throughout the extent of their natural range.

The head scientists and founders of Kaminando, Kimberly Craighead and Milton Yacelga are passionate, knowledgeable and dedicated. They are also fantastic hosts and all-round great people. For more information about the project check out the website - https://kaminando.org/the-jaguar-project

My trip to Panama was originally planned for me to provide veterinary assistance for sedation and placement of radio-collars on Jaguars, but due to unforeseen circumstances that could not go ahead at this time.  Instead I got to experience the jungles of central Panama and assist with placement of camera traps that are used by Kaminando to study the jaguars.

The camera traps seen in the image, provides vital information about the jaguars in this area, as well as the other animals that share their habitat. Jaguars can be identified by their coat patterns; therefore, the camera trap images and allows Kimberly and Milton to recognize each individual and know which jaguars are resident in this area and which ones are passing through. The camera images also give information about jaguar interactions with each other and available prey species in the area.

Kimberly, Milton and myself were joined by a Vet student from USA, Linda, and we were led into the jungle by Paolo. Paolo is a local who has lived in this region his whole life and knows the jungle well, he is also a budding biologist and does a lot of work with the camera traps. He has a keen interest in the environment and would often stop along the way to point out things such as wildlife, plants and tracks. On top of this, he carried the heaviest pack and yet was always the fastest when moving through the jungle or climbing steep tracks.   

We hiked up a steep mountainside to reach the continental divide. We took some time to enjoy the view before making the slippery journey down the other side to set up camp. The camp was simple, a tarp and a few rails made from available timber at the camp site.  

Checking the camera traps revealed a wealth of wildlife in the area – Jaguars, pumas, ocelots, jaguarondis, giant anteaters, peccaries, agouti, tyra and a range of reptiles, rodents and birds.  

The terrain here is rugged and trekking through the jungles of Mamoni preserve has been the toughest physical challenge I have encountered yet. This place is truly wild. The mountains are steep, slippery and covered in dense jungle growth, and the climate is hot and humid. The jungle is brimming with life and the rivers are pristine. But despite the hard work to get through this jungle, the experience of being able to see a place so untouched by humans has been worth every drop of sweat and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.  

Check out my excitement in the image below when we checked the camera trap and found that a jaguar had been walking on the same path we were currently standing on.