Inside the Hidden World of Jaguars

Nimble and powerful on land, in trees, and in water; nearly invisible; and almost always deadly, the jaguar is both apex carnivore and revered spirit.

Maestro Juan Flores’s apprentices brought my passport to the spirit world of jaguars in a small plastic chalice. It contained “la medicina,” a syrupy brown decoction of chacruna leaves and ayahuasca vines boiled down for two days and then decanted into old water bottles. At the start of the ceremony, the maestro consecrated the brew with exhalations of mapacho smoke, the wild Amazonian tobacco. And then he began filling the chalice, pouring doses of several ounces for each of the congregants.

We waited on mats with blankets and plastic vomit buckets under the thatched roof of a large open-air pavilion called a maloca.

There were 28 of us—from the United States, Canada, Spain, France, Argentina, and Peru. We had all come in search of something to this remote outpost in the Peruvian Amazon built on the banks of a strange, lethally hot stream called the Boiling River. Some were hoping to find cures for serious afflictions; some were searching for direction; others simply wanted a glimpse into another world—the most esoteric corner of what Alan Rabinowitz broadly calls the “jaguar cultural corridor.” This domain encompasses the habitats and migration paths that his conservation organization, Panthera, is trying to protect to ensure the survival of the estimated 100,000 jaguars and the vitality of their gene pool.

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