The tagging records revealed that this turtle had been seen at Tortuguero once before — about one month after we had tagged and released her in Panama in 1990. She had nested at Mile 6 1/8, where she would not normally have been observed, but there was a special project being conducted that year by the Center for Field Studies. Researchers watched her nest, recorded her tag number, and allowed her to return to the sea.
It is likely that she visited the nesting beach at Tortuguero other times during the 11-year interval between her last two sightings, but she would have been unlikely to be observed because that part of the 22-mile beach is rarely monitored at night. Green turtles typically exhibit a high degree of site fidelity to their previous nesting sites. The final detail in the email reporting the turtle’s demise was chilling, all the same – the guards had found her on Mile 6!
Jaguars have been documented as predators of nesting turtles at Tortuguero on numerous occasions, killing at least 31 green turtles, 2 hawksbills and one leatherback turtle in 2001 alone. There has been an increase in the number of marine turtles killed by jaguars at Tortuguero, with four documented kills in 1997 and 60 recorded in 2000. Most of the kills have been encountered far into the National Park, where night patrols are only occasionally conducted. Nevertheless, as soon as CCC realized that the Research Assistants were sharing the beach at night with a large predatory cat we contacted jaguar researcher for more information. To our great relief, they all informed us that jaguars in the wild have never been documented as attacking people.
The increase in jaguar predation in Tortuguero may have been caused by an increase in the jaguar population, a decrease in other prey species, a decrease in suitable habitat forcing more jaguars into the National Park or a female jaguar teaching her cubs to prey upon nesting turtles. CCC is currently looking for cooperators to study the area’s jaguars in order to determine if they are presenting a significant threat to the marine turtle populations.