In late 2016 a group of local hikers were trekking through dense rainforest in Ecuador when they came across a baby jaguar. When the infant animal made no attempt to run away from them, the party were confused. They knew something must be wrong, but it wasn’t until they had rescued the little big cat and had her X-rayed that the hikers realized how wrong.
The Ecuador jungle is home to an amazing range of exciting animals. From sloths and macaws, to anacondas, the South American country’s rainforest is teeming with all manner of exotic wildlife. So it would have taken something very unusual indeed to stop a group of seen-it-all Ecuadorians in their tracks.
However, that is exactly what happened in October 2016. A gang of locals had been trekking through the jungle in the east of the country, near the border with Colombia, when they stumbled upon a prone baby jaguar. While the wild cats are abundant in Ecuador, spotting them is a rare treat since they are extremely wary of humans.
With that in mind, the members of the walking party were no doubt perplexed when the baby jaguar did not instantly attempt to flee. However, upon investigation, the hikers discovered that the poor creature was in fact paralyzed. While they saw that the cub had some motion in her neck and head and could growl, the stricken animal was totally unable to move the rest of her body.
Realizing that the little jaguar’s life was in danger from predators or its own injuries, the locals decided they needed to act. So the group quickly scooped the animal up and brought her back to their truck. Once the cub was safely secured to the vehicle, her rescuers drove for five long hours to reach Universidad San Francisco de Quito’s animal hospital.
When the injured jaguar arrived at the Quito facility, wildlife vet Dr. Andrés Ortega conducted a range of scans to discover the cause of her paralysis. And as the specialist surveyed the resulting X-rays of the estimated 11-month-old patient, he made a harrowing discovery.
Indeed, the interior of the jaguar cub’s little body was littered with now fewer than 18 shotgun pellets. This indicated that someone had shot at her numerous times. Dr. María Cristina Cely is a veterinarian expert with the Ecuadorian Galápagos Islands-based wildlife welfare organization Darwin Animal Doctors. And she believes that local farmers were probably responsible.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to believe that such a magnificent animal as a jaguar is regarded as vermin. Speaking to animal-interest website The Dodo in March, 2017, Cely explained, “This is an area where people have cattle. Jaguars are known for going into farms and killing cattle. So, what the locals do is just kill the jaguars to preserve the cattle. It’s very sad.”
While the cub had somehow escaped the shooting with her life, Cely did not think that her mom had been so lucky. In fact, the animal doctor suspected that the farmers in question must have shot the adult cat dead. Otherwise, she maintained, the adult parent would have stayed by her daughter’s side.
Nonetheless, although the orphaned infant jaguar was out of the jungle, she wasn’t out of the metaphorical woods just yet. Back in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, Ortega worried that his patient was too weak to make it. Even if she did pull through, the wildlife specialist feared that the badly injured baby animal would never be able to walk.
But even with the odds stacked against the jaguar, the big cat’s veterinary team refused to give up on her. The staff at Universidad San Francisco de Quito named the orphan D’Yaria, which is claimed to mean “brave tiger.” They threw themselves into doing everything that they could for the courageous cub.
Cely told The Dodo about the Quito vets course of action. “She needed two main surgeries to remove the pellets and the areas that were damaged in her spine,” the vet explained. “That damage was able to be fixed by removing the little cushion between the two vertebrae in the neck.”
Indeed, during the delicate procedure, veterinarian surgeons removed the shotgun pellets which had been pushing down on the jaguar’s spine. The operating team hoped that freeing D’Yaria’s spinal cord from this pressure would reverse her paralysis. However, only time would tell…
Thankfully, after observing D’Yaria for some time after the surgery, vets noticed that the recovering cub had begun to move her limbs. This was confirmation that the operation had been a success. As a result, the Quito team was now confident that the jaguar would make a full recovery.
And the veterinarians were no doubt encouraged as their patient grew ever stronger. However, this began to present its own problems. While she recovered, the Universidad San Francisco de Quito staff was forced to keep D’Yaria in a small cage. But the youthful creature grew restless. So the carers tried to keep the cub’s spirits up by giving the adorable animal shredded paper to play with.
Eventually, however, D’Yaria had rehabilitated sufficiently for the vet team to feel able to unleash her from the confines of the cage. In fact, it was just a month after her operation, that the baby jaguar graduated from hospital to the nearby Lago Agrio nature reserve. Once there, the wild and now freer animal had much more space to stretch her legs in a special caged enclosure.
And apparently it didn’t take long for D’Yaria to settle into her new and much wilder surroundings. “At this point, she’s 95 per cent recovered and she runs around,” Cely revealed to The Dodo. “She’s running like it’s the last day of her life.”
Buoyed by D’Yaria’s swift recovery, her veterinary team were hopeful that she would be able to make a successful return to the wild. However, for this to be possible, those caring for her had to ensure that they kept their distance.
Thankfully, it seemed that D’Yaria’s jaguar instincts were already kicking in when it came to her human helpers. “At the enclosure in the jungle, every time somebody gets close, she throws herself against the cage and pretends she’s going to attack that person,” Cely explained. “This is a very good sign.”
So, with D’Yaria on the mend and behaving like a jaguar should, her rescuers were confident that her release would go smoothly. “The team has a lot of hope that she [will] recover 100 percent, and that she will be set free,” Cely told The Dodo. “And everyone is looking forward to seeing her grow up and being a full-grown jaguar and having little jaguars.”