By Alan Rabinowitz
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Additional resources for An Indomitable Beast: The Remarkable Journey of the Jaguar
T his creation myth, told by the Maya in Belize to anthropologist J. Eric Thompson in 1930 and relayed in greater detail in my first book, Jaguar, is an elegantly simple depiction of how the Mayan people of this region explained their relationship to both this powerful predator and the evolutionary forces (or God) that put them there. Despite the Maya having no knowledge of the actual events that took place millions of years earlier, this particular Mayan story is surprisingly accurate, placing the jaguar on earth initially dominant to humans until humans learned ways, through weapons and tools, to control the jaguar.
6 billion years of our planet’s existence, the origins of the big cats in general and of the jaguar in particular are relatively recent events. While the earliest mammals date back to the Triassic period of the Mesozoic era, approximately 220 million years ago, the actual dominance of mammals on our planet occurred only in the last 65 million years, after the extinction of the dinosaurs and when the continents and oceans began to resemble what we see on modern maps today. Fossil evidence of the first felid-like carnivores is sparse, appearing in the mid-Tertiary period, 25 to 30 million years ago.
I am convinced, albeit in retrospect, that I saw the first glimmer of what I would one day call the Pleistocene Jaguar Corridor in those moments when I visualized the jaguar in that landscape. Buddhist teachings state that one’s destiny is not mapped out beforehand, but is shaped according to the conditions already present at the time of one’s birth as well as all the other factors that can be changed through one’s own efforts. To begin to understand how the jaguar arrived at where it is today, I realized I needed to examine the conditions that shaped the species’ existence.