In Peru’s Candamo Valley, one of South America’s most remote pieces of rainforest, wild jaguars still prowl the forest. Sometimes you see them, often times you don’t. For The Atlantic, journalist Nadia Drake narrates her startling, close encounter with the Americas’ largest wild cat, and she examines the traits that might equip the jaguar to survive the world’s true top predator: people. What she finds is a powerful stealthy predator who, instead of hunting humans, tries to avoid confrontation with us and find ways to live on the margins ─ possibly because it knows another able competitor when it sees one.

No one knew how long the jaguar had been watching us. We’d pulled our canoe up to the spot in the late afternoon, then macheted a clearing in a flat patch of jungle uphill from the river. Then we’d cooked dinner under the observant gaze of several monkeys, and afterward, one of our crew had headed to the baño. Along the way, he had noticed the twin orbs glowing in the beam of his headlamp.

“The light was not too strong, her pupils were still very wide,” reported Davíd Attila Molnár, a filmmaker. “I saw two sparkling eyes that were dangerously far away from one another.”

Molnár quickly retreated. But the jaguar stayed near her tree, even after all nine of us showed up for a look. She occasionally yawned, displaying an impressive mouthful of teeth. Eventually, she curled up in the leaves like a house cat on a window seat and went to sleep, her sporadically twitching ears visible through the brush.

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