Here’s a fun read: “Ambushed on the Jaguar Trail: Hidden Cameras on the Mexican Border” by Jack and Anna Childs. Published by Rio Nuevo Publishers in Tucson, this softcover book features 143 candid color portraits of wildlife taken with camera traps strategically located along the Mexican border between Pena Blanca Lake and the Baboquivari Mountains. Its 151 pages contain a highly informative text and an amazing array of illustrations, including some of the best photos of a wild jaguar I have ever seen.
The authors know their business. The Childs, a team of houndspeople who live near Amado, Ariz., have been chasing mountain lions for years. On Aug. 31, 1996, Jack and Anna (along with two other houndsmen) treed a jaguar in the Baboquivaris. Calling off the dogs, they captured “el tigre” on film— only the second jaguar to be photographed alive in the United States.
The encounter changed their lives. Jack went on to found the Border Jaguar Detection Project to monitor this and any other jaguar crossing into Arizona. Using his tracking and hunting skills to place remote sensor cameras where they would be activated by an animal’s motion and body heat, Jack began a 10-year effort to spy on the comings and goings of any big cats that crossed his path. His remote sensor cameras captured a series of photos of two male jaguars, and a host of other critters as well.
The array of wildlife photographed is truly astounding— 20 species of night-roaming mammals, including mountain lions, coatis, javelina, white-tailed deer, bobcats and four kinds of skunks. Three more species—black bears, Mexican opossums and Gould’s turkeys— were surprises that expanded our knowledge of the natural distribution of these species.
Photos of these animals and more are the feature of this book. Nor are humans excluded: Several were captured while involved in illegal activities, thereby lending an element of danger to the project. One man, photographed while traveling through dense brush stark naked, defies explanation!
The book’s most novel value might be its ability to inspire. Certain readers will want to set up a camera trap project in their own area of expertise. The costs, about $250 per camera, are not that great, and the book shows that one doesn’t have to be an agency biologist to contribute to our understanding of the wild world. As this book amply illustrates, documenting the presence of such everyday animals as skunks and ringtail cats can be as meaningful as photographing lions and jaguars. And who knows what might show up in your photos?
–David E. Brown
Enjoy the book reviews published in Arizona Wildlife Views magazine? Subscribe or give a gift today.