It was so dark that I couldn't have seen my hand in front of my face if I had held it up. My younger sister Liz pressed her body up close behind me. The light from my Dad's flashlight had faded into the jungle blackness several minutes earlier as he went to check the trap. I was beginning to regret having agreed to go out on a jaguar hunt with him...it was a relief to see the beam of my dad's flashlight shining through the trees as he returned to where we were huddled on the trail. I resolved to bring my own flashlight the next time!
We followed my dad further down the trail to a fallen tree that hung out over the creek that ran close to the houses of the missionary outpost. Earlier in the day, my Dad had hunted and killed a monkey to use as jaguar "bait". He'd dragged the monkey carcass around in the jungle and then left it hanging in a tree on the opposite bank from where we would sit waiting for the jaguar to appear. My Dad had noticed the jaguar tracks in earlier weeks and and since the tracks were relatively close to the houses, he was concerned for our safety. And rightly so, since jaguars are pretty dangerous predators. We'd heard many jaguar stories from the tribal people...
After settling ourselves in a row on the fallen tree, my Dad turned off the flashlight and we began to listen and wait. Jaguars don't really roar like lions, they make a sound like a coughing moan. Sometimes we would tell visitors that the jaguars were roaring in the jungle when it was really just the howler monkeys...Dad always got a kick out of teasing people!
The jungle has many sounds at night. I could hear night birds calling, chirping crickets, and the soft sounds of the moths beating their wings against my clothes as they were attracted by the salty sweat. Our ears strained, however, to hear the jaguar...even though I wasn't really sure I wanted to hear it! Every now and then Dad would shine the light around to the other side of the creek and down into the water. Since it was dry season, the water level was very low. Many creeks in the jungle have high, steep banks and the tree where we were sitting was fifteen to twenty feet above the water. One time when Dad shone his flashlight into the water, we saw the orange glow of alligator eyes.
After about an hour or so, there was still no sign of the jaguar and suspense was building. I imagined what it would sound like if Dad shot the jaguar with the shotgun as he sat next to us. We didn't talk much as we waited, listening in the night. All of a sudden, the log we were sitting on shifted, dropping straight down about five feet. Boy, did that pretty much scare us witless! Even Dad was pretty startled! It was amazing that none of us fell off the log into the creek or that the shotgun hadn't gone off accidently. I don't think any of us would have appreciated being dumped down into the water with the alligators. I spent the rest of the time out there with one arm wrapped tightly around a small tree and the other around my little sister.
We never did see or hear any sign of the jaguar that night and we never saw the jaguar tracks close to the house, either. And I never went out on any more jaguar hunts either!