Story | 27 Oct, 2021

The black jaguar and the guardian of the forest

CEESP News: By Maycon Melo, PhD, and Barbara Arisi, PhD * 

In Brazil, a group of hunters killed a black jaguar. Not satisfied with the crime of killing an endangered animal, they made a video where one of them shows the magnificent animal between his arms while threatening the Guardians of the Forest, the indigenous people that monitor the indigenous territory to defend the life in the forest.

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Photo: Conservation International. Courtesy of the TEAM Network

Yasuní Camera trapping photos; the very rare and beautiful melanic jaguar of tropical rain forest. Photo © Conservation International, courtesy of the TEAM Network

Two illegal hunters were arrested on October 20 in the municipality of Arame, 476 kilometres from the capital São Luís do Maranhão, in Brazil, for killing a black jaguar inside the Araribóia Indigenous Land in the municipality of Amarante do Maranhão. A video by the hunters is circulating on social media in Brazil, where the hunters mockingly show an enormous female jaguar that had just been slaughtered, shocking those who watch it.

In addition to committing the crime of killing a wild animal (a crime provided for in Law 9.605/98 and punishable by six to twelve months of confinement and a fine), the hunter also made a threat: "If you do not want to die, do not risk yourself in front of me, if I did this with such an animal here, imagine with a Guardian".

The black jaguar and the guardian of the forestPhoto: Maycon Melo/MMA/UniCEUMA
The "guardian" to which the hunter refers is the indigenous group created by the Guajajara people for the protection and surveillance of their own indigenous territory (IT).  

With much dedication but little to no financial support, the Guardians monitor the ethno-environmental conservation areas in an attempt to contain and combat the presence of deforestation, fire and invaders. The image of this splendid animal killed in such a way is just the tip of the problems in this Amazon region.

Indigenous people of the Gavião Pyhcop Catiji people in the Governador IT in Maranhão (Photo ©  Maycon Melo/MMA/UniCEUMA)

For over a decade, the indigenous peoples who live there - the Guajajara people in the Araribóia Indigenous Land; the Gavião people in the Governador Indigenous Land; and the Krikati people in the territory that bears their same name - have been denouncing the invasion of their territories.

The black jaguar and the guardian of the forestPhoto: Maycon Melo/MMA/UniCEUMA
Deforestation, fires, the presence of illegal hunters and gatherers, as well as the advance of illegal agribusiness activities in these Indigenous Lands have culminated in a scenario of environmental collapse, conflicts and death.

In 2019, Paulo Guajajara, a Guardian of the Forest member, was killed during a loggers’ ambush, on the same date that a delegation of the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) was holding a public demonstration in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, as part of the campaign "Indigenous Blood: Not a Single Drop More".

Seizure of illegal timber in the Governador Indigenous Territory, in Maranhão (Photo ©  Maycon Melo/MMA/UniCEUMA)

This surveillance and territorial management policy is replicated in other Amazonian Indigenous territories, motivated by necessity due to the inaction and sluggishness of the public agencies that have the attribution of watching over the conservation, security and protection of the Indigenous people, plants and animals that live in the ITs. With little or no support, the forest rangers do a dangerous job that should not even be theirs. They are constantly risking their lives by crossing paths with criminal and dangerous men. 

the black jaguar and the guardian of the forestPhoto: Civil Police of the Maranhao state, in Brazil
On October 22, the Civil Police showed the pictures of black jaguar’s skin and the weapons and ammunition seized after the hunters' arrest, they will respond to a criminal process. The hunting of endangered animals such as the black jaguar is a crime under Brazilian law since 1967, according to the Brazilian Institute of Environment (IBAMA).

The threat to Indigenous people is also a crime. It is tragic to remember and think that both the dead black jaguar and Paulo Paulinho Guajajara were killed trying to defend their territory, the magnificent forest that is the Amazon. We watch with astonishment the increasingly accelerated destruction of this forest, precious in bio- and socio-diversity, which is being burnt, deforested, riddled and destroyed by mining, agribusiness and pasture companies.

People like these hunters are the small criminals in a world of big crimes committed by more powerful people and equally guilty of the death of jaguars, rivers, and so many Indigenous people. They leave behind them a devastated land with death, blood, skin and traces of magnificent beings like the jaguar.

As anthropologists, we have learnt from the Gavião and the Matis indigenous peoples that the power of the jaguar continues in the forest, well, at least while there is a forest...

*  Maycon Melo is a professor at the MSc Program in Environmental Studies at Ceuma University, São Luis do Maranhão, Brazil.

* Barbara Arisi is a lecturer at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Amsterdam University College in the Netherlands, and a columnist for Amazônia Real, an independent journalism site where a longer version of this article was originally published in Portuguese and in English. LINK to article in Portuguese and in English:

More readings:

O caçador xamã: etnoclassificação ambiental e socialidade humano-animal entre caçadores Gavião Pyhcop catiji (Amazônia maranhense)

Red list: Jaguar - Panthera Onca