The man behind the defense of Jaguars land

Vast protrusions of rock and earth, otherworldly horizons, soaring peaks, lush green plains which seem to go on forever: Chiribiquete is breathtaking even from 700 kilometres away, sat in Medellín’s Modern Art Museum. 

At the end of the video, anthropologist and explorer Carlos Castaño-Uribe took the stage to speak about Colombia’s biggest national park – the subject of his new book, ‘Chiribiquete: the cosmic home of the jaguar men’

Formerly the Director of the Colombian National Park Service, Castaño-Uribe has been investigating Chiribiquete for more than three decades and is among fiercest promoters of its protection – particularly against encroaching deforestation.

“We have to protect it: it’s a part of our identity as Colombians, and as humans. But I have always believed that without human intervention, the park will look after itself: the best way to protect Chiribiquete is not to go there.” 

The park stretches over more than 40 thousand square kilometres of Amazon. Of more than two thousand UNESCO heritage sites, it is one of only 23 sites recognised as both cultural and natural heritage. 

Though he has been the key figure in the recent history of the park, Carlos Castaño-Uribe arrived in the park entirely by accident. 

The tale of a tiny plane, a huge storm, and a surprise detour sounds like something from an Indiana Jones sequel - as does the story of how he first came across the huge murals of jaguars after seeing a red smudge on the rock face from a distance: 

“Hanging 300 metres up the rockface, I arrive at the ledge of a vast stone and find myself face to face with a pair of jaguars, painted looking at each other, though I felt in that moment that they were looking straight at me. I nearly fell off,” he laughed.

More than seventy thousand wall paintings have been found in the park, many of which date back 20 thousand years, and many of which focus on jaguars. The importance of the animal in the shamanic symbology of the park’s indigenous and ancestral communities is striking; unusually large numbers of real jaguars have also been registered in the area. 

Chiribiquete is not just important for its history and ecology, the author is keen to stress: it is key in the ongoing formation of Colombia itself – “still a young nation”. 

“We must ground our own national identity in the ancestral - the indigenous cultures which are the basis of our culture and identity. We need a consistent narrative which brings us together; we need to internalize Chiribiquete’s message.”