Species: P. Onca
Size: AHead and body 5-6 ft. long, tail 25.5-36 in. long
Covered in fur, powerful body on four legs with paws and sharp claws. Medium-sized rounded ears and small muzzle with large nose and whiskers, long tail.
Color(s): Yellow body with a white belly, covered in complex splotch-like spots.
Behavior: Solitary, territorial, largely nocturnal, semi-aquatic.
Preferred Habitat: Mostly tropical rainforests. Also found in grasslands.
Range: Throughout Central and South America, especially Brazil. May also be in extreme southwest of the United States.
Diet: Various land animals including deer, tapirs, peccaries, and freshwater species such as turtles, caimans and fish .
Lifespan: 12-15 years in the wild, up to 23 years in captivity.
Status: Near Threatened
What's yellow, has four legs, and is covered in spots? You might think of a leopard or a cheetah, but don't forget their American cousin, the jaguar! Jaguars are the largest big cats in the Americas and the third-largest big cats in the world after lions and tigers. They are found in the tropical regions of Central and South America.
Jaguars are the oddballs of the big cat family. They have spots like leopards and cheetahs, but their spots are large and splotch like with little spots in the middle. Even more unusual is the jaguar's love for water; they love to hunt as well as play in rivers and lakes! They are not picky eaters and hunt a wide range of animals including deer, pigs, tapirs, fish, turtles and caimans. Jaguars are ambush predators, preferring to hide and then pounce on unsuspecting prey. The jaguar's bite is exceptionally strong, capable of crushing skulls and cracking turtle shells! Jaguars seem to prefer hunting in the night and twilight hours, though some populations have been seen being active during the day.
Jaguars are territorial. They mark their territories by scratching trees and leaving waste. Female territories may overlap without conflict, but males do not tolerate other males in their space. Jaguars usually only gather together to mate, and it is believed that mating occurs year-round. Females are old enough to breed at two years old, and males at three or four years old. A female jaguar will carry her young for about three months and then give birth to up to four cubs. The mother viciously protects her cubs from everything, including their own father! The cubs will nurse for about three months, and then start to hunt with their mother after six months. They may stay with her for up to two years before finding their own territory.
Jaguars are currently classed as near threatened. They have been pushed from much of their original range in the southwestern US, Mexico, Central and South America. Prized for their beautiful fur coats, jaguars experienced rampant hunting until the 1970s when national and international restrictions were put into effect. Today, jaguars are listed CITES Appendix I, which forbids the trade of jaguar body parts. Hunting jaguars is illegal in the US, Belize, Columbia, Argentina, French Guyana, Brazil, Honduras, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Suriname and Venezuela. Hunting is restricted in Guatemala and Peru.
Despite these protections, jaguars still face threats. Currently there are no hunting restrictions in Ecuador or Guyana, and poachers in many of the other countries regularly break the law. Deforestation is another major threat to the jaguar's survival as thousands of acres of rainforest are destroyed by illegal or unregulated logging operations. Other problems include clashes with farmers, who kill jaguars to protect their livestock.
Fortunately, many people are working night and day to protect these gorgeous big cats. The World Conservation Society has a long history of fighting for the jaguar. Costal Jaguar Conservation is conducting critical research for big cats in Costa Rica, and Panthera has launched a project to protect jaguar habitat. It will take a lot of work on local and national levels, but there is hope that the biggest cats of the Americas will be stalking the jungles for generations to come.
To learn more about these spotted cats and how to save them, look up these great organizations!
Panthera, Journey of the
Jaguar - Check out Panthera's "Journey of the Jaguar"
World Conservation Society,
Jaguar page - See what the WCS has done and is doing now for Jaguars!
Coastal Jaguar Conservation
- Follow these intrepid scientists as they research jaguars in Costa
World Wildlife Fund,
"3 Ways You Can Help Protect the Amazon" - This short but
sweet article will help you get started to protect the Amazon, home
of the jaguar and thousands of other species!
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