RINCÓN DE LA VIEJA NATIONAL PARK, Costa Rica — In the heart of the dense Costa Rican forest lurks the jaguar, an elusive yet famed animal that is rarely seen by humans.
Most local residents go their entire lives without sighting a jaguar. Even scientists who dedicate their time researching within the forest have a tough time spotting one personally.
Christian Zuniga almost ran over a jaguar with his car as he drove through Santa Rosa National Park one night.
“My first instinct was I wanted to jump out of the car and give him a hug,” recalled Zuniga, our guide through Rincón de la Vieja National Park, as we paused for a moment during a four-hour hike.
That’s just the kind of person he is.
Zuniga has worked for the Guanacaste Conservation Area over the last four years, an area that includes both Santa Rosa and Rincón de la Vieja National Parks.
As he led our group on a special tour of the Rincón de la Vieja volcano, Zuniga detected animals and plants in the forest we could not have seen on our own.
Even when he did point out a hummingbird perched delicately on a branch or a spider monkey swinging through the treetops we often had difficulty finding the animals ourselves.
“Here, let me help you,” quickly became the words Zuniga used most with our group. He took the time to show each person individually how to focus in and find each animal along and around the path with great patience.
Our three-kilometer hike lasted four hours because of the time and effort Zuniga put into describing not just the function but importance of dozens of plants and animals within the park. He detailed information about the mud pots of the volcano, to the ant-acacia symbiotic relationship, to the defense mechanisms of the sensitive mimosa, all without the use of notes.
Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on how you look at it — a jaguar was nowhere to be found on our hike.
There is always next time!
— Amy Esker