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Big Cat of the Americas

The Jaguar is the third largest feline in the world, beat only by lions and tigers, but is the largest cat of the Americas. Jaguars are muscular and dense stalking predators with short thick legs. They weigh from 120 to 300 lbs, are about 6 feet long, and 3 feet tall to the top the top of their shoulder. They have an orange-tan coat with black spots, known as rosettes. Jaguars don’t have true spots like leopards, instead the rosettes along the back are large and can have interior spots. Jaguar’s hunt by stalking and pouncing, where their coloration helps them remain camouflaged in their prey’s blind spots. Black panthers are actually jaguars (or leopards) with a unique melanistic gene for dark-coloration.

Hunting and Lifestyle

Jaguars are primarily nocturnal hunters, mostly active during dusk and dawn stalking around on their padded paws. While they are terrestrial animals, they are still adept climbers, and have been observed lounging in lower tree branches.They can use these perches to watch for passing prey. Jaguar’s are NOT picky eaters! As opportunistic hunters they have been observed eating over 85 different species, ranging from capybara, livestock, squirrels, tapir, birds, fish, and even snails. Jaguars are obligate carnivores, meaning they only eat meat and consume no vegetation. As apex predators, they play an important role in the population control of herbivores lower in the food chain.

All big cats, jaguars included, are highly solitary and territorial animals. Jaguars only pair together during mating. Male jaguars territory is about 35 square miles, in which multiple females may also live independently. They mark their territory boundaries with scratch marks, feces, and urine. Jaguars can mate year round but typically will mate when prey numbers are highest, during which females will advertise their readiness with increased vocalizations. After mating, the pair will immediately separate and the female will raise up to 4 cubs alone. Born blind for the first two weeks, the cubs are weaned after 3 months and will begin leaving the den at 6 months. At 2 years of age, the cubs leave the mother and venture out to establish their own territories. In the wild, the expected lifespan is 12-15 years.

Humans and Conservation

Human and animal conflict is a recurring theme in the Amazon Rainforest. As human activities increase and encroach on the Amazon, clashes are unavoidable. Jaguar’s were widely poached during the 1960’s and 1970’s for their beautiful pelts, with up to 15,000 killed a year. This is now illegal, but jaguars are still victims when they are viewed as threats to a rancher's livestock. They are sometimes hunted for sport in competition hunts by locals. The threat to humans themselves is low, and indigenous people understand that as long as prey (especially capybaras) are plentiful, they (humans) are generally safe from attack.

The Jaguars habitat once ranged all the way into the southern United States, but now they can be found from Mexico to northern Argentina having suffered a decrease of up to 37% of their historic range. Jaguar populations have disappeared within El Salvador and Uruguay. They are most commonly sighted in Pantanal, Brazil which is the world’s largest tropical wetland and flooded grassland. Hunting, decreases in prey populations, and habitat destruction have harmed jaguar populations. An estimated 15,000 are left in the wild. Currently there is a renewed threat in illegal poaching of jaguars, as Asian markets find high value in Jaguar claws and teeth. Conservation efforts will continue to protect these majestic predators, through the use of protected areas and wildlife sanctuaries.

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