When one young jaguar was taken to a rescue center in Ecuador, vets could see that the animal was suffering. Then again, with the creature apparently abandoned by her mother and all alone in the big, scary world, there was little wonder that she might find it hard to come out of her shell. However, vets had no idea of the true agony that the cub was hiding.
It all began in October 2016 with a call to San Francisco de Quito University in Ecuador about a young wild animal. Specifically, the caller had found a jaguar cub. And although she was clearly still a baby, there was no sign of the big cat’s mom anywhere.
Additionally, the good Samaritan had tried to get the young cub to move on her own accord – but to no avail. Hence, the call to the university for help. And that wasn’t as an unlikely a move as it may seem, for the university is home to the TUERI research institute.
The institute excels at animal rescue, rehabilitation and then, if possible, release back into the wild. Furthermore, the staff at TUERI work specifically with wild animals that have been victims of hunting, trafficking and illegal possession. Since its establishment in 2012, then, the institute has been instrumental in helping thousands of creatures return to their natural habitats.
“Every week we receive wild animals from all over the country who are victims of indiscriminate hunting,” veterinary student Veronica Cabrera told The Dodo in November 2016. It was decided, moreover, that the jaguar should be taken in by the TUERI rescue organization. And once there, she was given a physical examination by the facility’s vets.
They quickly learned that the little jaguar was paralyzed in all four legs, yet they had no idea why. She would need an X-ray, then, but this was something that would take time to organize. In the meantime, though, the year-old cat’s ailments remained a mystery.
Indeed, from the offset, little was known about the young cat. “We don’t know exactly what happened because villagers don’t want to give information, but she was found next to a palm plantation without her mother,” Cabrera told The Dodo. Therefore, medical staff had little option but to wait until the X-ray results came before confirming a plan of action.
And when the vets finally managed to X-ray the jaguar, they discovered that she had been carrying an enormous and painful secret. In fact, the scan showed that she had an incredible 18 bullets inside her body. Furthermore, two of them, most worryingly, had damaged the cat’s spinal cord.
“We suppose they were too close to the plantation and were shot,” Cabrera said. In a desperate act to help the poor cat, then, the vets decided to operate. Indeed, they would do everything in their power to help the little jaguar they named D’yaira.
However, the operation showed that the bullets were lodged deep into D’yaira’s bones. This meant that another procedure would have to be attempted in order to remove them all. And after that, the young jaguar would need to undergo months of physiotherapy.
In the meantime, the facility’s staff helped spread the news of D’yaira’s story to the general public. “We want her story to be known by everyone, so people can prevent or stop hunting animals,” Cabrera said to The Dodo. Currently, jaguar conservation is a big deal in Ecuador.
Indeed, some say the country may have the highest population of jaguars in the world. The animal is native to the Americas and can be found throughout South America and as far north as the United States. However, the total number of wild jaguars is sadly in decline.
Still, jaguars aren’t yet considered to be an endangered species; rather, they’re deemed “near threatened.” Risks to the animals’ existence include deforestation, poaching and fragmentation of their habitat. Jaguars have also been known to be shot by farmers when they get too close to livestock or crops – as may have happened in D’yaira’s case.
And although there’s no escaping the fact that D’yaira’s recovery will be far from straightforward, there is hope for her future. A few days after she was admitted, in fact, two students saw the cat moving her hind legs independently. It was a small piece of progress, but it gave the vets confidence in her potential to recover.
Eventually, then, D’yaira was able to undergo another operation. “Now she is able to change her position by herself, so it seems like the surgery was successful,” Cabrera said to The Dodo. “Now she can eat 15 to 20 chicken breasts per day without problem. She is getting stronger,” she added.
What’s more, since D’yaira was brought to San Francisco de Quito University, she has become a symbol of animal conservation in Ecuador. “Let’s trend with her name to end the jaguar hunt in Ecuador,” Ecuadorian sports presenter Alberto Astudillo wrote on Facebook. He accompanied his message with a video of the jaguar receiving treatment and added, “D’yaira means tiger or brave jaguar.”
Astudillo’s post was subsequently shared hundreds of times. “No more killing… There are so few of those left,” wrote one of the broadcaster’s followers. “[Human beings are] increasingly cruel,” added another. “Terrible to see the pain of a pet that is fighting for her life. Punishment for those criminals who tried to kill her.”
Fortunately, in recent years there have been moves from the Ecuadorian government to help the cause of jaguars. In 2008, for example, the country established laws to protect a number of wild animals, including the big cat. And it is probable that Ecuador will want to avoid following the fate of El Salvador and Uruguay, where jaguars have already become extinct.
So with the extinction of jaguars in Ecuador a very real possibility, every single jaguar life a vet can save is crucial. And although it’s still too early to predict what the future has in store for D’yaira, there have been positive signs that she will find her strength again.
Indeed, in an update posted on November 7, 2016, Astudillo shared the fact that, after more treatment, D’yaira had regained some sensitivity in all four paws. And while he cautioned that “review and treatment is complicated for obvious reasons,” he also added that “doctors are looking for the best way to stay positive for the jaguar.” Here’s hoping, then, that D’yaira makes a swift and full recovery.
But D’yaira isn’t the only big cat to have hidden a dark secret from her rescuers. When a pregnant jaguar was taken in for a Cesarean section, vets learned that she had committed an unthinkable act. And because the animal had killed two of her previous newborns, the professionals knew then that they had to step in and save her baby’s life.
The mother, Xena, was one of a dying species. Estimates suggest that there are just 15,000 of these beautiful big cats left in the world, mostly living in South America. Xena’s act of infanticide on her cubs – which were blind and vulnerable as newborns, like all jaguar babies – came as a shock to her keepers.
In fact, though, it is relatively commonplace for big cat mothers to kill their young. In the wild, a mother might dispose of her offspring simply because she wishes to mate again, or if she knows that there won’t be sufficient food to feed a whole litter. Animal rights activists claim that keeping animals in captivity can cause stressors that prompt infanticide, too.
Since Xena had already killed two cubs, the zoo staff sought expert guidance as soon as they realized that she was carrying another baby. The last of the litter was clearly in danger of also losing its life. Hence, Madrid’s El Bosque Veterinary Hospital answered the call.
It was subsequently decided that Xena would be given a C-section. This is, however, a rare and potentially dangerous method of delivery for a big cat, posing risks to the mother. But the 12-strong team set to operate included Dr. Patricia Garrido and Antonio Rodriguez, experts determined to bring the cub into the world unscathed.
Xena was transported to the nearby veterinary hospital and prepared for her operation, which was to be filmed by one of the team. The jaguar’s underside was shaved to allow the vets to make a clean entry to her uterus, and she was given a general anesthetic via injection.
An ultrasound scan revealed that the cub was very much alive and kicking inside its mom. So, with Xena laid out on the operating table, the C-section began in earnest. Yet while the first part of the operation went well, then the cub was pulled out – and everything changed.
The horrified vets discovered that the male cub was not breathing. So whatever they did in the next few minutes would determine whether this little guy would survive or die like his siblings. The team immediately sprang into action.
The vets fetched a pump, which was designed to force air into the animal’s lungs. And while one vet used this, another started CPR on the baby’s tiny body to try to induce a heartbeat. However, it appeared that their efforts were not working.
“Come on, little one,” the vets told the cub as they frantically administered more CPR – and then, courageously, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Indeed, Dr. Patricia Garrido placed her mouth over the cub’s and desperately tried to get his circulatory system up and running.
The clock was ticking. Dr. Garrido kept on with mouth-to-mouth, while her colleagues tried to detect a heartbeat, hoping desperately that the little big cat would come through. Then, after almost ten minutes, they finally identified a pulse.
Against all the odds, Xena’s male cub was alive. However, vital steps still needed to be taken if his continued survival was to be secured. Vets therefore dried the cub, gave him the necessary injections and placed him in an incubator to keep him warm. He was given a name, too: Ali.
The hard work of the 12-strong team had paid off, and Antonio Rodriguez was over the moon. “Ali could have died in eight minutes if it was not for the efforts of the team,” Rodriguez told the Daily Mirror. “I do not have words to explain the emotion.”
“I’m really happy with my team’s work, and we got a great reward,” Rodriguez added. “Many of the workers are mothers themselves, and they have a special sensibility to newborns.” What’s more, Ali’s traumatic birth was just the beginning of his close relationship with humans.
In fact, Ali was now going to be hand-reared in a different zoo away from his mother, since she was still thought to pose a threat to his life. After vets nursed him back to health, then, Ali was fed from a bottle and regularly handled by humans – the ones who could keep hold of him, at least.
Thankfully, meanwhile, Xena was returned to her zoo home following surgery and did not appear to experience any long-term ill effects. And at the same time, the search for a suitable substitute jaguar mother for Ali began. This hunt turned out to be unsuccessful, too – although that didn’t mean Ali would be without parents forever.
A human Spanish couple – Tahone and Olavo – offered to adopt Ali, take him away from the zoo and raise him at their home outside Madrid. At just under six months old, Ali was too small to live independently without a jaguar mother, so this seemed to be the perfect temporary solution.
In their outdoor pool, Ali’s adoptive parents taught him how to swim – which jaguars are naturally adept at – and encouraged his playfulness with toys and cuddles. Then, after two months of chasing the fanged furball around their villa, the couple said goodbye to Ali, and he was taken to a new home to live alongside other big cats.
Now a handsome and powerful predator approaching adulthood – which could see him grow to weigh 250 pounds and measure 6 feet in length – Ali is a remarkable jaguar. His miraculous survival after birth, and the fact that he was spared from being killed by his own mother, demonstrate how intervention by humans can drastically improve the lives of some animals.
As for the vets responsible for saving Ali’s life, it’s clear that doing so has had a profound effect on them as well. “The experience of seeing an animal start living and breathing after our help is really amazing,” Rodriguez told the Daily Mirror. “It is indescribable.”