The Story of Mariposa the Jaguar

By Panthera Colombia


The jungles of the Americas hold untold wild cat stories. In the past, Panthera has brought you stories of jaguars from our project sites in Belize and Brazil, where we track the life histories of individual jaguars like Ben, F11-9 and Pixana. Between these two countries lies a critical stop on the Jaguar Corridor: the plains and forests of Colombia, a country that serves as the gateway to South America. Read on to learn more about one special female jaguar that has contributed a stupendous amount to jaguar conservation in the region.

Colombia: The Gateway to South America 

A rich ecosystem exists just north of the Amazon Rainforest — the wetlands and plains of the northern part of South America. It’s here in Colombia’s Llanos region that capybaras, anacondas, anteaters and caimans make their home, rivaling the Pantanal in visible South American wildlife. Also visible, more so than almost anywhere else in the world, is the region’s apex carnivore: the jaguar.

Panthera Colombia and the Barragan family, with the special support of Jorge Barragan, have monitored the jaguars of Hato la Aurora Private Nature Reserve in Colombia for nearly 15 years, part of our range-wide assessment of jaguars across the Jaguar Corridor, which connects wild cats in Mexico all the way down to northern Argentina.  

Using camera traps and tourist sightings, together, we’ve managed to identify 71 individual jaguars. However, while all jaguars are important to this ecosystem, the story of Mariposa, a female jaguar, may be the most triumphant of all.

Mariposa family tree
Only a fraction of MARIPOSA'S FAMILY TREE.

The Life and Times of Mariposa 

She first appeared on our remote cameras in 2009, when we estimate that she was just over two years old. We gave her the name Mariposa, meaning “butterfly” in Spanish, and from that day forth, she truly had a positive, butterfly effect on the jaguars of Hato la Aurora, her genes influencing generations to come. Day by day, week by week, and year by year, we tracked Mariposa’s movements amongst the trees and grass, noting the many cubs that a long-lived female jaguar has. For a grand total of 13 years, we monitored her steps through the plains, until she was last sighted at the end of 2022 by a group of ecotourists. During her most recent sighting, she was followed by two young jaguar cubs — the latest two in a line uniquely important in this ecosystem. 

During her long life, Mariposa had many offspring. While her sons all left the territory where they were born, her eleven daughters, an astoundingly high number, stayed in the vicinity. Our scientists and trackers deduced that Mariposa tolerated and made room for them — an important insight into jaguar ecology and behavior. Sharing room with her daughters means that the numerical density of jaguars of Hato la Aurora has only grown — making this a true conservation success story. The higher the species density, the healthier the population. 

The Next Generation of a Jaguar Family Tree 

The sheer number of cubs she nurtured and raised means that Mariposa is a true matriarch for Hato la Aurora’s jaguar population. Eleven daughters indicate eleven new lineages and family trees established — and to great effect. Mariposa’s eldest daughter, Cayenita, has already bred eleven daughters of her own! 

Mariposa and two cubs

After at least 16 long years of life, Mariposa’s time as the matriarch of Hato la Aurora may be coming to a close. However, her many descendants have forever altered this rich ecosystem, bringing it stability in the form of many apex predators. The tourists who flock to this region now see jaguars more and more often, thanks to matriarch big cats like Mariposa and Cayenita. This ecotourism helps jaguar conservation — bringing funds, publicity and hope for a future in which jaguars thrive. 

While the path forward for jaguars across their range is uncertain, in certain pockets, jaguar genes are growing continually more complex family trees. It all starts with cats like Mariposa — and a butterfly effect grows new roots from generation to generation. 

Learn more about jaguars and our work in Colombia.