A Surprise at 2,200 Meters

By Franklin Castañeda
Country Director, Honduras, Jaguar Program


Across the entire jaguar corridor, which stretches from Mexico to Argentina, perhaps the most critical link is 500 km of hazardous agricultural landscapes and fragmented forest in Honduras and Guatemala. Camera trap surveys indicated jaguar presence in both countries — but can they move between the two?

Located on the border between these two countries, the Merendón Mountains extend east from Honduras’s San Pedro Sula all the way to Guatemala’s Montagua Valley. Years of camera trap efforts had failed to obtain jaguar records in the area, which worried us. If jaguars were not using these mountains, the existence of the jaguar corridor—and therefore the genetic integrity of the species—could be in peril.

After many letdowns at Merendón, all but one of the cameras in the area were moved to other locations. The one remaining camera was situated at 2,200 meters – one of the highest points in the range – in an ecosystem called elfin forest, where the trees do not grow tall due to strong winds.

In April, we climbed up the mountain to retrieve the camera. We had low expectations when we opened the SD card and started flipping through the pictures…and it seemed like our expectations were warranted: one agouti, two coatis, a tapir, and some blank pictures. One of our team members sighed hopelessly, and then it happened on the next click: a video of a large male jaguar. His teeth seemed healthy, suggesting he could be a young individual dispersing from Guatemala or eastern Honduras. A scar on his left ear was a silent witness of the dangers he faced along his journey.

Our field team exploded in joyful roars, laughs, hugs and smiles. The jaguar corridor had been resuscitated before our eyes! Seven years of hard work had paid off; the indomitable beast had not given up his will to survive — and we wouldn’t give up either.

Panthera is now working with the Honduran Government, Opwall Trust, and local communities to protect the Merendón Mountains, where jaguars are alive and well. If we have anything to say about it, they will be here for many years to come.

Learn more about our Jaguar Corridor Initiative.