Of all the many wondrous creatures of Costa Rica, perhaps the most elusive and therefore most sought after, are the various jungle cats. All semester long I have been dying to see a cat, so, naturally when a classmate came back with the story of a cat sighting about two hundred meters away from the field station, I had to go out and find it for myself at the first chance I got.
We were just finishing up a night project, when our professor received a phone call from another student saying that they had just seen two distinct twinkling eyes in dark forest and were certain it was a cat. Elated, our group rushed back to the lab where we stashed our samples and research equipment and took off cautiously into the woods where the cat had supposedly been seen. Because I could hardly contain my excitement, a classmate and I rushed ahead of the main group to get to the kitten before it disappeared into the night for good.
When we arrived at the trail where they said they had seen the dark figure, we walked in total silence, shining our light this way and that to find whatever it was that was lurking in the forest. After searching for what seemed like ages, but, in reality, was only ten minutes, we heard movement far off the trail in the woods. When we shone our lights in that direction, all that we saw were two piercing eyes staring straight at us from the darkness. The eyes slowly dropped to the ground, while still maintaining contact with us. Although we could not see the body these mysterious eyes were attached to, we were certain that we were looking into the eyes of some sort of feline. I felt the hairs along my entire body stand straight up and I began to sweat uncontrollably. After a moment, the two eyes shimmered and then disappeared as whatever they belonged to turned back into the forest and began to walk away soundlessly.
The classmate that I was with turned around and ran back to the group of stragglers to tell them of our discovery, leaving me alone in the darkness. I began to shine my light around desperately trying to find the beast, but to no avail. When the others joined us we all combined our efforts (and lights) to find this mysterious animal. Finally, I spotted eye shine deep in the woods, and shouted “I see it! The cat is back!” We all scrambled to get better views of the animal, while making sure not to get too close.
Finally, a classmate of mine, who was carrying a much brighter light than I was using shone his beam on the eyes, and revealed that we were, in fact, looking into the deep piercing eyes of a collared peccary. Although peccaries are incredibly interesting creatures, they are of equivalent rarity at La Selva to White-tailed deer across most of the United States. Needless to say, my classmates have yet to live this experience down.
Saint Mary’s College of Maryland