It is coming this way!" Alberto shouted. There was a great crashing of brush as the dogs reversed direction and circled near. A small deer hurtled from a thicket, too panicked even to see us. The dogs changed direction again, their voices rising in fantastic chorus. It seemed that the entire Mato Grosso had erupted in sound.
We were running in a narrowing circle. From various sides I could hear the high-pitched shouts of the men. Above the din two shots exploded. I heard myself say, "Damn! They've shot the jaguar!" But over the frenetic bellow of the dogs Alberto yelled: "No! They are shooting into the air to keep the dogs running. The dogs are close. They are gaining on the jaguar." And then the barking changed. The long, insistent screams seemed to catch midway, as if the dogs were strangling and gasping for breath. Alberto shouted, "This way."
At first I did not see it, so perfectly did it blend into the blacks and grays and golds of the jungle's filtered sunlight. It watched me with fierce, amber eyes, as if it had known of this meeting all along and had been waiting for me to arrive. This was the big cat, the king of the New World, the prize at the end of a search that had begun almost 10 years before. Ten years of plotting and planning, and more than 10,000 miles of traveling, had led me finally to the base of this tree in the Mato Grosso (Great Forest) of Brazil, deep in the interior of South America.
The journey actually began in the dank, steaming rain forests of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico (SI, Jan. 26, 1959), where I first stalked the jaguar through 20-hour days and 100� heat. There was no trophy at the end of that trail, but I knew then with the certainty of obsession that someday, somewhere, I would meet the big cat.
For almost a year I thought it might be along the tangled jungle rivers of the Magdalena valley in northern Colombia, where two expatriate Americans had conceived grandiose plans for launching a modern floating sportsmen's lodge that "would move along with the game" into previously impenetrable equatorial estuaries. But the boat never got off, and the trip never came about.
I turned next to Venezuela, where I was offered not only a safari to match "the best in East Africa" but, unbelievably, I was guaranteed a jaguar. Outfitters occasionally complicate their lives by guaranteeing a client a shot at specific game (although the best ones seldom do), but this guarantee was unique. So, too, it proved later, was the outfitter. He managed to get himself killed in a duel over a misappropriated outboard motor.
I next tried Brazil. My inquiries there turned up numerous guides and outfitters, but the names of their previous clients are not to be found. Organized hunting as it exists in other big-game areas of the world simply does not exist in South America.
I had just about decided that setting up a jaguar hunt was as difficult as stalking the beast when I met an old friend, John Adams, at a cocktail party. He had spent considerable time in Brazil and knew many people there. John asked quite innocently if I had any interest in hunting jaguar and, if so, would I like him to set me up with his friend, Alberto Machado, "the best jaguar hunter in Brazil." It was a good party, and I was feeling mellow enough to humor his obviously warped wit. But the joke was on me a week later when inquiries turned up the astonishing information that Machado was indeed the best jaguar hunter in Brazil or, for that matter. South America.
For almost 20 years Alberto Machado had hunted the big cats. He had claimed more than 20 jaguars, 11 of which exceeded the measurements of the largest jaguar listed in the Boone and Crockett Club's Records of North American Big Game. South American trophies are not eligible for these records or Machado's name would fill half a page. Just this past summer, after five years of relentless effort, he had taken a rare black jaguar—possibly the first sports hunter ever to do so.
But Alberto Machado, a handsome, quiet and unassuming man, had neither a brochure to advertise his exceptional experience nor a particular interest in capitalizing upon it. For Machado, a medical doctor by training, hunting is purely sport, a luxury made possible by a prosperous vaccine business.