On the trail of the jaguar in the Amazon rainforest, with travel photographer Grégory Pol

He had already shown us Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, Mayotte and the Kerguelen Islands. Grégory Pol, the traveling photographer, takes us on a new adventure today. Discovering Guyana. A project that he tells us about with all the passion that characterizes him. While waiting for the publication of his next book by Ramsay editions. “The ‘Guyana, Sentinelles de la forêt’ project is really a project close to my heart”, explains Grégory Pol in the preamble. His goal, as on each of his trips: to highlight local biodiversity. This biodiversity of the overseas territories and French territories that we generally know little about, us metropolitans. “I want to see as many beautiful things as possible to enhance them,” the traveling photographer further clarifies. By beautiful, Grégory Pol means “pretty, aesthetic”. “Because pretty things often catch the eye. And once you’ve somehow seduced the audience, you can tackle heavier subjects, the problems encountered by “these beautiful things”, what is really happening. To show how fragile this beauty is and that we must take care of it if we don’t want to see it disappear. Remember that Guyana is a vast French territory located in South America. The second region of France — behind Nouvelle-Aquitaine — by its area. A territory covered at more than 90% by the equatorial forest. On the border of Brazil, a piece of the richest and least fragmented Amazon rainforest in the world. The jaguar, this emblematic animalAnd the one that Grégory Pol will specifically seek out in French Guyana, is the jaguar. “The idea is to highlight what this emblematic animal that we only see by chance in this forest represents. For scientists, but also for natives. Mainly Native Americans. It will be a gateway for me to explore their relationship to nature. The jaguar is a big cat. A powerful animal. And despite the absence of attacks on men in French Guiana, some are afraid of them. A fear fueled by reported attacks on domestic animals “in regions where men, by clearing, deforesting, have come a little too close to its territory or have forced it to move”. There are also those who worship him. “The jaguar appears in quite a few myths and beliefs of indigenous peoples such as the Amerindians, but also the Creoles or the Maroons. Finally, for the researcher, the jaguar is a marker of the health of a biotope. “If there are jaguars, it means there are prey and therefore the area is healthy,” comments Grégory Pol. Thanks to the jaguar, he therefore hopes to approach all these people whom he qualifies as “Sentinels of the forest”. “All the people who work to protect biodiversity in French Guiana. Among them, even, the 3rd REI of the Foreign Legion which participates in the prevention of river pollution as part of its Harpie mission to fight against illegal gold panning. “Today, the army is no longer there only to fight against clandestinity. It also contributes in its own way to the protection of biodiversity”, assures us Grégory Pol. In Guyana as elsewhere. “I remember, when I was a young sailor, some garbage cans were thrown into the sea. This is probably still done in some armies. But in France now they are stored in refrigerators waiting to be thrown away. » During his reconnaissance mission – 18 days last October –, Grégory Pol was able to make some contacts that he is impatient to dig into. “Between the Foreign Legion and the clandestine gold diggers, it feels a bit like being in the Far West. The authorities know that sometimes it can be dangerous for them to intervene outside the framework of their mission. Especially since the miners are armed to the teeth. They’re not just miners. They are real bandits. They do not hesitate to make demonstrations of force. While remaining discreet enough to prevent the authorities from using more resources and disrupting their “business”. It is very surprising. But as Grégory Pol wishes, let’s go back to his red thread: the jaguar. Accompanied by a guide from the National Forestry Office (ONF), he has already found some traces of it on the spot. “We also have automatic camera videos of the jaguar. So the marked area is good. It remains to be sure that the jaguar passes by often enough to decide to lie in wait there and have a chance to take a picture of it. In October 2023, during his trip to Guyana, Grégory Pol surprised a few jaguars with an automatic camera. © Grégory Pol, All rights reserved Meeting the AmerindiansThis may be during Grégory Pol’s next trip to Guyana. Expected next March. The main objective at this time will be to take some nature shots commissioned by the Foreign Legion to mark the 50 years of the regiment’s presence in the region. “I try to plan my outings at different times of the year. To vary climates and opportunities. To find all the things I want to show. My trip in July 2023, for example, should allow me to photograph turtles laying eggs. ” Did you know ? The Amerindian peoples of Guyana are currently fighting against the construction of a power plant in western Guyana, near the village of Prosperity. A solar installation that would require the deforestation of 78 hectares of forest in the heart of a natural park where more than 40 protected species live. At each time of the year, there is indeed something interesting to discover. “Even the rain is interesting. It makes the greenery even greener. And that’s also the equatorial forest,” the photographer tells us. While emphasizing that “the climate is disturbed in Guyana too. Before, the seasons were well marked. Today, even in the middle of the rainy season, you can very well have four consecutive days of sunshine or vice versa. First contacts have been made with local populations. With the customary chief of the village of Bellevue, Cécile Kouyouri, for example. Gregory Pol plans to find her next March. “It’s all about trust. Especially since the Amerindian peoples of Guyana feel a bit left behind. Some stayed closer to nature. They still live from hunting, fishing and traditional crops, the abattis. Others who had gone to the coastal villages want to get closer to this nature again. I would like to highlight them. Show that they can remain proud in the face of the westernization of Guyana. Understand what it is to be Native American today. And how these people manage to live with nature. “Waiting for the rest…A nature that never ceases to amaze the neophyte. “The forest is so dense. As a result, we hear the animals long before we see them, in general. The paypayo, for example, and its characteristic metallic cry. Or the howler monkey that can be heard for miles. But difficult, precisely, to evaluate the distances which separate us from it. Except in the savannah,” Gregory Pol tells us. The savanna ? Yes, because 6% of Guyana is covered with savannah. Especially on the side of the Guiana Space Center. “In the savannah, the fauna is different. Sometimes you feel like you’re in Africa. Above all, the horizon is much clearer than in the forest. There is not this green wall which prevents you from seeing. » « In the forest, moreover, there are all these animals who have become masters in the art of camouflage. You can sometimes pass by a bird without realizing it. That’s why we like night outings. Because at night, with the lamps, we can make their eyes shine. Those of spiders, even. It must be said that they are so big…” The Goliath tarantula and its 25 centimeters, for example. “It almost looks like a small mammal. Nothing to do with those spiders that spin on our walls. But they too are, for the most part, harmless,” the photographer assures us. “Guyana is really a place full of surprises,” concludes Grégory Pol. So strongly that he comes back to tell us a little more about the Foreign Legion, the Amerindians, the Kourou space center, the gold miners, the paypayo, the jaguar. And even spiders… No?