- Status: Near threatened
- Known as: Jaguar
- Estimated numbers left in the wild: 8,000 to 16,000, though uncertain.
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Larger than the puma and smaller only than the lion and tiger, the jaguar is a formidable feline predator.
Covered in rich golden-yellow fur with just a tinge of orange, with a white underbelly and dense patterns of black rosettes, the jaguar is a handsome beast by any standards. The cat is 1.2 to 2 meters long, with a robust build and a weight anywhere from 36 to 160 kilograms, though the average is more in the range of 65 to 90 kilograms.
Its shoulder height ranges from 60 to 76 centimetres, males naturally being larger than females.
A powerful, extremely muscular apex predator, this cat feeds on anything it can catch, including tapirs, horses, cattle, caimans, peccaries, anacondas, and practically all other animals in its range.
Surprisingly large prey can be carried off or even dragged up a tree. It seldom attacks humans, however.
Unlike other great cats, which usually sever the spinal column or grasp the throat to strangle their prey, the jaguar also punches its fangs through the skull of prey to kill instantly by piercing the brain. This powerful bite enables it to prey successfully on turtles, tortoises, and sea turtles even when they have withdrawn into their shells. Jaguars bring down smaller animals by batting their head with a forceful paw, killing them with brain trauma.
Jaguars are solitary and territorial, roaring to indicate their ownership of the area they live in. These cats tend to avoid fights with each other, though such conflicts do sometimes occur.
They will mate year-round depending on the availability of prey. Up to four cubs are born in each litter, and stay with their mother for two years after birth. Typical lifespans are one to one and a half decades, but some jaguars can live twenty years or longer.
Jaguars occur in Central and South America, with the exception of Uruguay and El Salvador, where they have been wiped out.
A few range as far north as the American south-west, though sightings there are rare. Forests and forested swamps are its favorite habitats, with the denser and more remote regions being most favored.
The cat is versatile, however, and will also live in grasslands, near rivers, and in foothills, but they do not venture into mountainous terrain.
Jaguars were hunted massively for their pelts in the mid 20th century, with 15,000 skins sold each year, an amount likely equal to the current total population of the species.
Ranchers often kill the cats whenever they find them as a threat to their livestock, while others hunt them for sport or for their pelts. Habitat loss is something of a hazard also, though the cats can venture into multiple types of terrain if they are not shot when they go there. Still, the fate of the jaguar hangs in the balance.
The jaguar is protected by international law, which helps explain why it is no longer hunted for its pelt. The trade in pelts, in fact, shrank to nearly nothing once it was made illegal internationally.
Some countries prohibit hunting entirely, while others limit and license it, and a few offer no protection whatsoever to the cats.
Expanding reserve areas, increasing the ecological understanding of livestock owners, and putting a profit motive into the cat’s survival by promoting lucrative ecotourism are all currently active methods of helping conserve this large and impressive hunting beast for the future.
Jaguar Conservation Fund
The Jaguar Conservation Fund is an organization based in Brazil which works to protect local species threatened by population decline such as the majestic Jaguar.
Panthera is an American-based organization. Their main focus is to conserve the world’s largest wild cats including the Jaguar by supporting research and education programs in different countries.
Wildlife Conservation Society
Wildlife Conservation Society was formed in 1895 with the aim of protecting 25 percent of the world’s biodiversity by promoting the importance of protecting wildlife and their habitats. WCS has five zoos in New York.