Understanding the Social Activity of the Jaguar
Posted: Mar 03, 2016
Anyone who's fortunate enough to be about to embark on a dedicated Jaguar holiday to the Brazilian Pantanal region is faced with the exciting prospect of multiple sightings of this magnificent animal in its natural habitat. One of the most sought after wildlife watching experiences in the world, a lot of work and knowledge goes into making sure participants are given the optimal opportunities to come face to face with the elusive and secretive big cat.
It's important to book a Jaguar holiday through an established tour company with many years' experience in the Pantanal region. The most reputable tours are led by trained naturalists, and accompanied by local guides with intimate knowledge of the vast wetland habitat and the behaviours of the big cats.
While participants will learn a great deal about the habitat and behaviour of the Jaguar from the guides and naturalist, a little bit of background knowledge can help to make the experience even more fulfilling. In particular, it can be interesting to understand their social behaviours.
This enigmatic apex predator is a true jungle warrior, facing off against the largest of prey, including anacondas and caimans. It's afraid of nothing, and in its own habitat its only real threat is from humans, through development (causing loss of habitat) and shooting by ranchers defending their domestic livestock.
Solitary and Territorial
These are animals renowned for their solitary existence. With the exception of when they want to mate or a female has cubs, they live and hunt alone, roaming and hunting the territory of their home range – which for adult males can be up to about 80 km2, and for females around half that area. They mark their home range territory with faeces, urine, and scratchings on tree trunks.
The male will protect his territory aggressively from other males, although it tolerates females and, in fact, several female territories often overlap its own. Cubs stay with their mothers for about two years as she teaches them the intricacies of hunting and killing prey before setting off to claim their own home range.
The mating season is generally considered to be year-round, with particularly busy times when numbers of the smaller prey food sources are in abundance. The animals will extend their roaming when looking for a mate, and when the female comes into fertility (for about 6-17 days out of a 38-day cycle), she will announce it by leaving urinary scent and making louder and more regular 'roaring' or vocalisation.
Once the mating act is over, the male and female separate. The rest of the job - for the gestational period of around 100 days and the ensuing two years after the birth - is left to the mother. After the cubs are born, females are even more aggressive about chasing off any males who stray into their territory, to avoid the possibility of them killing the cubs.
In many areas of the Brazilian Pantanal, the big cats have been deliberately 'habituated' so they are accustomed to vehicles and water vessels passing through their habitat. This does not, however, mean they are habituated to actual human presence - more so to the vehicles that carry them. Not only does this encourage the big cats to be able to move through established 'corridors' created by conservationists, it also means those on a Jaguar holiday get more opportunities to encounter a sighting of this spectacular animal on forested trails, in open terrain, and around the rivers and waterholes.
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 holiday 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.