This past February, I participated in my second darting expedition to the Calakmul Biospheric Reserve on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. The jaguar study there is being conducted by the Mexican conservation organization, United for Conservation, directed by Carlos Manterola of Mexico City, in cooperation with the University of Mexico's Dr. Geraldo Ceballos. At this point, the Mexican operatives have constructed a scientific protocol and have spent the first two years of the study demonstrating that they can catch and collar jaguars (a common deficiency of past scientific studies has been the inability to do so). There are now nine jaguars wearing radio collars for tracking purposes, but so far lack of funds has prevented actually locating the cats consistently with fixed towers or aircraft as planned. Several hunters have participated in the darting hunt in the past year or so, and reports about the experience have been highly mixed. Two hunters with whom I have talked were livid afterwards, and complained that the whole operation was a sham designed to make money for the outfitter. However, most others were moderately to greatly satisfied with the experience. I personally went down to the Yucatan myself last year and was unsuccessful in my attempts to dart a cat. I found the camp to be comfortable, however, the food good, the jungle terrain fascinating and the experience highly worthwhile, even though I had no opportunity to observe the scientific aspects of the program beyond simple preparations.
The program has been promoted through articles written by the US contact for the darting operation, Dave Hanlin. The articles have appeared in Safari Club International (SCI) literature, though SCI Conservation Committee members do not count it as an official SCI program at this time. There have been some lingering doubts about how much scientific data might be forthcoming and whether a jaguar hunting quota could be generated with successful conclusion of the study as presently designed. SCI is conducting an ongoing evaluation. I noted a great improvement in the execution of the protocol on my hunt this year. I had the opportunity to observe field technique and sample gathering,........(continued)