Protecting Jaguars with Strangers

Robbie Sylvester Stokes, Jr.


The jaguar is one of the most powerful symbols of Mexico’s majestic landscapes and the cultures who have inhabited them since time immemorial. But their ranges are being encroached upon and severed at an unprecedented and alarming rate. The species is currently in danger of extinction, at least locally, due to poaching, habitat destruction, and a decline in available prey. How can a stranger help?

Our NGO, I Talk To Strangers (ITTS), heard about the work of the Vallarta Botanical Garden in conjunction with their colleagues at Panthera México and Alianza Jaguar and reached out in hope of lending a hand in their efforts.
The response of the Vallarta Botanical Garden was nothing short of amazing! They invited ITTS staff and one of our student volunteers to accompany the Garden’s staff biologist, Leo Campos, in his monthly camera trap monitoring field work in the Garden’s vast and growing forest preserve.

Through the generous support of just a single member, the Garden was able to fund five state-of-the-art IBM custom-designed Panthera camera traps. For over a year, they’ve been experimenting with locations throughout their forest preserve with their camera traps in pursuit of the ultimate goal of capturing the elusive Panthera onca, known locally as “jaguar” or “el tigre.” This species is the king of the jungle in the Americas and serves the critical role of maintaining the balance between predators and prey, with ultimate influence over the very composition of our forests and the flow of our rivers. While yet awaiting the moment that their camera traps are awarded the premium prize of a much anticipated jaguar, they have already captured several exciting images of fascinating wild animals including ocelots, deer, coatis (often called “tejones” locally), and raccoon. They also have dozens of other images of native birds and even bats, all helping build a better understanding of the composition and status of local ecology.

I Talk To Strangers Foundation sees the Vallarta Botanical Garden’s Camera Trap Program as a perfect way to engage volunteers, especially student volunteers, in meaningful work to document local wildlife and inform decisions regarding their conservation.

Our organization has the capacity to train, motivate, and equip students with opportunities to join environmental efforts. Our campus-community curricula are based around our the concepts of hands-on approaches to science and humanitarian studies which we refer to collectively as “4C” (campus, community, corporate, culture). ITTS´s STEM-focused criteria (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) equips pupils to implement the latest technology to gain practical life development skills.

As ITTS pushes its’ mission through partnerships and collaborations with schools and NGO’s to train the next generation of global citizens, we see programs such as the Vallarta Botanical Garden’s work in camera trapping to be perfect opportunities for non-profits to tap in to the volunteer base within their community for mutual benefits of limitless potential.

With the aim of uniting strangers in positive dialogue and seeking to inspire innovative solutions that local youth can leverage to motivate and inspire them to reach their full potential, we hope to help create positive scenarios for the benefit of plants, animals, and humans—one person, one conversation, one stranger at a time!