Why Is a Jaguar a Character in Threshold?

Jaguar Track

To tell a story set in the Sonoran Desert, which occurs in only one region of the world, we must include the iconic species of plants and animals who are its defining features. Their presence maintains the balance of life and contributes to the great beauty of this desert landscape. The saguaro cactus is its signature plant life, who some believe evolved from a tree in the tropical rainforest that dried to a savannah and then to a desert over thousands of years.

Saguaro in Tucson Arizona after a rainstorm. Its long shallow roots absorb water efficiently after a heavy monsoon rain.

Threshold tells the stories of many desert plants, trees, insects, invertebrates, and mammals. One strategy for conserving water is to be active at dusk and dawn. These animals are said to be crepuscular (as contrasted with nocturnal). The jaguar is thus, and also nocturnal. Panthera onca is the third largest of the cat family with a bite more powerful than the tiger or lion.

I named the jaguar character in Threshold. Duma. With the risk of personifying a wild animal by human standards, I tried to stay strictly to the known biology, behavior, and observed lifeways of jaguars in the Sonoran Desert. In my story Duma obtains his name from first graders in Phoenix. You’ll have to read the book to learn how that came about. Below you see another feature of this remarkable character: he is an albino, a White Cat, causing local observers to refer to him as the “ghost cat” as he moves about the fields and pastures of farms and ranches, terrifying livestock and infuriating their caretakers.

Duma is my writer’s device to represent wild nature and the impact of a changing climate and human activity on his lifeways. His story also allowed me to describe the labyrinth of environmental and conservation laws on both sides of the border and how Duma becomes, literally, emmeshed in them. He crosses the U.S. -Mexico border while roaming his natural range which stretches from Sonora in Mexico north to Phoenix in Arizona. Duma is caught up in the social and political turmoil.

It is important to me to consider the lives of other species who share our habitats in what is a human centric world.

Go to Terrain.org to read or listen to more of Threshold

The Fate of Jaguars: Juma and Duma

Jaguar SilhouetteThe  Olympic Games in Brazil may be remembered most for the list of woes it has accumulated as Rio 2016 approaches the August games. Now the death of a jaguar has cast a longer shadow over the event.

Images of a jaguar in a heavy metal collar and chains as the Olympic flame was passed from one runner to the next were quickly followed by news of the animal’s death. Juma, a 17-year old jaguar born into captivity at a zoo on a military base, was apparently brought out to provide a dramatic image at the Olympic ceremony. When he escaped and approached a soldier, he was shot and killed. As the public learned of Juma’s death. it caused worldwide outrage.

In my novel, Threshold, Duma is a jaguar born in the Sky Islands–mountain ranges that span the U.S. – Mexico border. He wanders into an area near Nogales, Arizona where surrounding cattle and sheep ranches lure him closer to human settlements. Duma is sighted and captured. Readers follow him from one facility to another while his fate is determined.

The role of zoos and aquariums is being reconsidered as the public is less comfortable with animals on exhibit. Is there a new role for zoos in the 21st century?

Research with dolphins, grey parrots, chimpanzees, and elephants, among others, show these fellow earthlings share similar life’s experiences as humans do. The movie Blackfish which revealed the stresses on killer whales in captivity, and the recent killing of Harambe, a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, are just two recent examples that have furthered discussions about our responsibilities to the animals we love to see at zoos and enjoy knowing may still inhabit natural areas.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, an AZA accredited institution, is one of several settings in Threshold. As the story unfolds, readers learn that climate change is causing stress on animals and keepers alike. The Desert Museum is a leader in care and exhibition of animals for public education.                                     Explore ASDM’s website and publications to learn more.

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT THE ROLE OF ZOOS AND AQUARIUMS. POST YOUR COMMENTS ON THIS POST.

Update: Here is the latest in a discussion at the Center for Humans and Nature:

Zoos as Gateways