Rancho Pint - The Mexico Page

Text ©2017 by J. Pint,

Photos ©2017 by Alejandro Prieto

Photo Gallery

Camera trap - Photo by Alejandro Prieto
How he does it:
A professional-grade camera and flash are set up at the top of a well-scratched tree with an invisible light beam about a meter off the ground. The resulting image is shown below. Photo by Alejandro Prieto.

Jaguar on Scratching Tree - Photo by Alejandro Prieto
Jaguar on scratching tree by Alejandro Prieto.

Coati caught by camera trap - Photo by Alejandro Prieto
Ooops! A coati is caught by the camera instead of a jaguar. "I have thousands of pictures like this," says Alejandro Prieto.

Photographer Alejandro Prieto
Photographer Alejandro Prieto diving at Isla Espiritu Santo, part of a protected area in the Gulf of California, which is home to sea lions and the very rare, endemic Black Jackrabbit. Photo by Alejandro Prieto.









Nature photographer Alejandro Prieto shares his secrets

By John Pint

Alejandro Prieto is a prize-winning nature photographer whose pictures have graced the pages of internationally known magazines like National Geographic and BBC Wildlife Magazine.  When I learned that Prieto had recently completed a year-long project to photograph the Mexican jaguar in its natural environment, I wondered how he had managed to it, since few people have ever seen this great cat in the wild. Fortunately, I was able to interview him in his home high among the hills of Guadalajara, Mexico.

Jaguar by Alejandro Prieto

A jaguar is captured facing the camera. Says photographer Alejandro Prieto: “It’s essential to recognize the animal’s trail and catch it in a natural pose. If I had put food on the ground, the picture would have turned out very differently.” Photo by Alejandro Prieto.

“Tell me something about Mexican jaguars,” I asked him.

“A few years ago,” said Prieto, “Jaguar experts from all over the Republic got together to estimate how many of these animals can still be found in the country. They monitored areas in every state, using camera traps placed at regular intervals and came to the conclusion that in 2011 there were less than 4,000 left in Mexico. This is down from an estimated 20,000 at the beginning of the 20th century.”

Prieto told me that most of Mexico’s jaguars are in the south, in Campeche and Chiapas, but that this animal is very adaptable and does well in different ecosystems. “For example,” said the photographer, “they do well in Manantlán, which is all pines and oaks at a high altitude, but they also live in mangrove swamps, in the desert and in the Chiapaneca Jungle, which is totally different from these other environments. The ones that live in the mangroves spend practically all their time in the water and principally live on fish, while those in Manantlán eat deer and boars.”

As to why the number of such adaptable creatures is plummeting so drastically, Prieto says the biggest problem is their loss of territory, due to deforestation. Next come problems caused by poachers. They either go after the jaguar itself or after their prey, such as deer, raccoons, badgers and boars. Without sufficient prey, the jaguars start to hunt cattle and trouble develops with cattle ranchers who often respond by putting out poison. Says Prieto, “If a jaguar brings down a cow, it doesn’t eat it all at once. It comes back a few days later to finish the meal. This makes it easy for the vaqueros to poison the carcass or to set traps. So it’s a vicious circle: people kill the jaguar’s prey; without prey the jaguar kills cattle; then people kill the jaguar. This creates a serious problem.”

Alejandro Prieto is working with a foundation called Alianza Jaguar, which is trying to solve the problems mentioned above. Prieto’s job is to get first-class photographs of jaguars in their natural environment for promotional purposes. “Jaguars are almost never seen in the wild,” Prieto told me, “so I use very special camera traps to get the pictures I need. These are not the typical cameras that conservationists attach to a tree. I use a professional camera inside a housing I especially make for it. Then I have four external flashes, each one protected by a tube, and finally infrared sensors that trigger the shutter when the animal passes a pre-chosen spot. It’s a sort of self-operating photo studio in the middle of nowhere.”

Numerous visits to jaguar habitats with experienced guides helped Prieto learn to recognize this cat’s trails. Still, luck plays a big part in the process. “Sometimes you don’t get what you were planning for,” he says with a smile. “Instead you get a deer or a puma or a wild boar. I have thousands of pictures like that!”
He showed me a gorgeous picture of a jaguar scratching a tree trunk, taken from high in the tree. “This picture turned out great,” he told me, “but it took me eight months to get it!” This may explain why Prieto is presently the only professional photographer in Mexico using this particular technique.

“Have you ever seen a jaguar in the wild with your own eyes?” I asked him.

“I have been lucky,” he replied. I saw two on the same day. I was in Las Marismas Nacionales, a swampy area between San Blas and Mazatlán, where there are nothing but mangroves, which support a population of about 30 jaguars. It was around sunset and I was walking along a trail to the spot where I wanted to put a camera, and the jaguar was coming down the same path the other way—and we almost collided. Both of us were equally surprised and then the jaguar jumped off the trail and into the mangroves. I even managed to snap a picture, but with my cell phone. Then, that very same night, I saw another one. I was with a local man who said he had never before seen a jaguar with his own eyes during his entire life.”

If you don’t feel like spending the rest of your life wandering remote trails to spot a jaguar, you might want to visit alejandroprietophotography.com. Go to “Stories” and click on any of the photos to open an album of marvelous nature photographs. You won’t regret it! If you want to know more about Alianza Jaguar’s work, go to alianzajaguar.org, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on English.

By the way, Alejandro Prieto’s latest photographic project is tracking the elusive axolotl or “Mexican Walking Fish.” I hope to report on what he has found in an upcoming article.


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