Chase of natural predators has been recorded since the time of
New World colonization. Documents dating back to 1535 account for
6,000 (six thousand) “Leopard” pelts, found in a French
vessel taken by Portuguese subjects. The skins were probably of
the Panthera Onca species.
Native communities also hunted large predators as a ritualistic
coming of age. Among Tupi natives, a young male was only considered
a man after making a prisoner from enemy tribes or when he killed
Other animals of the Brazilian fauna were also found in the French
vessel, like parakeets. The impressive number of skins and of dead
birds is clear evidence to the fact that European people were already
fascinated by it and that there was an already thriving trade. A
trade that started the marked decline of our original feline population.
HUNTING WEAPONS AND METHODS:
From primitive weapons, like the Indian ”Tacape”, to
present day firearms, hunters all over the territory have been developing
hunting methods and techniques.
TACAPE – Widely spread
among native Brazilian Indians, it is a wooden club also known as
burduna, used to hit the animal in the head, breaking its skull.
ZAGAIA – A sort of iron
spear, the zagaia was often used by jaguar hunters, known as “onceiros”.
They stalked the jaguar and then waited for it to jump on them.
With the zagaia, the hunter pierced the animal on the chest and
held it until the cat stopped struggling.
TRAPS – More commonly
used to catch small cats, traps are the most widespread method for
hunting animals that have become used to preying domestic fowl.
It consists basically of a two-compartment box. One compartment
is for the cat, the other for the bait, usually hens. When the cat
approaches to capture the bait, it is forced to enter the first
compartment, stepping on a platform that closes the door to the
box. The cat is trapped inside, and the hunter can easily kill it.
POISONING – Knowing that
jaguars are in the habit of returning to a prey they have killed,
people use highly lethal poisons to “control” predators
in their properties. These poisons are easily procured in agricultural
products stores, and even though they are meant for crops, its use
against predators is widely spread. This way, “hunters”
cannot be easily traced by controlling authorities.
STILL-HUNTING – Carrying
a firearm, the hunter waits in ambush, usually from up a tree, for
the jaguar to find the prey left lying on the ground – which
can be some small animal like a hog, a dog or a kid goat. Or else,
the hunter will find a carcass of a killed prey. As jaguars are
known to return to their prey, the hunter just sits and waits.
CALLING – In fact this
is another method of waiting. It consists of waiting in hiding and
blowing a bamboo instrument, the sound of which resembles the male
cry. The caller hopes a male will hear it and come to drive the
rival out of his range.
DRIVING OR BEATING – With
the help of dogs, after many hours or even days of pursuit, the
jaguar tries to go up a tree to escape its pursuers, but becomes
an easy prey to the sight of their firearms.
WHY HAS HUNTING GAINED SO MANY ADEPTS
Native people in Brazil hunted big cats for cultural or religious
reasons. Rites of passage to adulthood required that young men went
out to kill a jaguar, or a puma. When white men arrived to the newly
found lands, hunting was spurred by pelt trade, which has been extremely
active until recent years. The most attractive skins were –
for obvious reasons – the patterned ones, with spots or rosettes,
like those of jaguars (Panthera onca), ocelot (Leopardus pardalis),
margay (Leopardus wiedii) and oncilla or tiger cat (Leopardus tigrinus).
Sport hunting was also very popular in the countryside, attracting
people from distant countries, who came looking for a game hunting
trophy. And the most coveted game was the largest predator in the
In our days, the fact that domestic animals and fowls are an easy
prey for predators has become the main excuse for hunting. Deforestation
and forest burning are other very serious threats to the future
of our wild cats populations.
Though prohibited by law, hunting of small or big cats continues
unabated in the countryside, and the remaining population vies for
space with cattle, goats and horses. On the other hand, many of
the jaguar’s usual preys are also the preferred target for
hunters, therefore reducing their density. Thus the vicious circle
is formed. Predators look for alternatives, and these are found
in animals raised by men, who will kill predators to save their
livestock – killing many cats before the true predator is
DANIEL RIOS DE M BORGES
Uncaring about tomorrow
| Wild life is disappearing
in many of the areas intended for biodiversity conservation,
due to the hunting pressure of the more traditional communities
(indian, native and fishermen communities) throughout Brazil.