10 Top Facts About Jaguars
The mighty Jaguar is one of the most enigmatic members of the animal kingdom. Silent, stealthy and a master of sleuth, Panthera onca's secretive nature means it is also the big cat researchers and scientists know least about.
For anyone interested in Jaguar watching, here are ten facts that provide an insight into this magnificent creature.
Big, bold and beautiful: Panthera onca is a formidable wild cat. Fully-grown males can reach up to 2.4 metres, with a shoulder height of 75cm. It is the third-largest of the felidae family (after the Lion and Tiger) and the largest in the Americas.
Home is where the habitat is: While previously the big cat's range extended throughout Central and South America and up into the USA, its habitat has declined dramatically over the past decades. There have been isolated sightings in Arizona, but today it is found primarily from Mexico down to the northern regions of Argentina.
The best place for Jaguar watching: The best place to encounter the big cat on a dedicated Jaguar watching tour is without doubt the wildlife rich, biodiverse Brazilian Pantanal – which encompasses the world's largest tropical wetland.
A unique identity: While often confused with the Leopard or even the Cheetah, their markings (known as rosettes) are quite different, as there is also spot inside each rosette. These markings are unique to each animal, which also allows researchers and scientists to gather valuable data in terms of their ranging, hunting and mating practices.
Social behaviour: Males and females only come together to mate (which can be at any time of the year), and for the rest of the time they are solitary animals. The female will give birth to up to four cubs (most often two), which stay with her for around two years before striking out to establish their own home range. A male's range can be anything from 50km up to 90km.
Apex predators: Panthera onca is an apex predator, with a powerful bite strong enough to pierce the skull of its prey in one deft movement. They hunt and feed on anything that moves, including turtles, fish, anacondas, deer and livestock.
Strong swimmers: They are one of the only members of the felidae family to enjoy water. They have no problem hunting in water as well as on land and are often found lounging on riverbanks.
Big cat climbers: The big cat's habitat includes swampland, scrub, dense forests, grassland and tropical rainforests. They are excellent climbers, able to scale trees (even those without lower branches) in order to ambush prey from above.
Concerning conservation: With loss of habitat due to deforestation and hunting, the big cat's population has declined to 'near threatened' status. There are a number of high profile conservation projects focused on their preservation, one of which is the world's first Jaguar preserve (established in 1986) in the 240 sq. km Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, in Belize.
Creating a safe corridor: In 2004, big cat organisation Panthera, headed by zoologist Alan Rabinowitz, set up the Jaguar Corridor Initiative. The project was created to facilitate the safe passage of the big cats through areas of fragmented habitat, from Mexico down to northern Argentina, enabling them a continuous 'corridor' through which to roam and mate.
For those embarking on a Jaguar watching tour, understanding as much as possible about the big cat's physiology and behaviours, as well as the conservation efforts in place to ensure its survival, will enhance this once-in-a-lifetime experience even more.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Jaguar watching. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led Jaguar watching itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
Writer and Online Marketing Manager in London.