The Wide and Varied Diet of the Jaguar
Posted: Mar 24, 2016
A dedicated Jaguar tour provides wildlife lovers with a particular interest in the largest of South America's big cats a rare opportunity to observe it in its natural habitat. As well as seeing it prowling the jungle paths, swimming, or relaxing on riverbanks, for the lucky ones, a Jaguar tour may also afford the rare chance to see this magnificent animal hunting – a true once-in-a-lifetime experience.
As an apex predator, the Jaguar is entirely carnivorous, enjoying a wide and varied diet from the bounty of the South and Central American jungles. Hunting mostly at dawn or dusk (therefore more correctly crepuscular rather than nocturnal as it is often described), no animal is too big or too small for this predator. They prey on anything that moves –from mice and fish, to monkeys and cattle. They play a vital role in maintaining the delicate eco-system of the jungle, keeping numbers of these smaller species under control. However, their propensity towards killing livestock is a source of conflict with local ranchers and a threat to their conservation.
On the Ground
One of the animal kingdom's most stealthy predators, they employ a 'stalk and ambush' method of hunting – patiently and silently tracking their prey before leaping on them and killing them with one crushing bite from their formidable jaws. In fact, their name actually comes from the Native American word 'yaguar', which translates as 'he who kills with one leap'.
Prowling their home range – which for a male can be up to 54 square miles and includes savannah plains and dense deciduous forests – the big cat will hunt medium-sized prey like deer, Capybaras (large rodents native to South America), Tapirs (which look a little like pigs with trunks), peccaries (medium-sized hoofed mammals), monkeys and sloths, as well as mice, rabbits, snakes and ground birds. If a ranch is within their home range they will also hunt livestock like cattle, horses and sheep.
Sly and opportunistic hunters, they will sometimes climb a tree in pursuit of prey (such as sloths and monkeys), but also to prepare an ambush of larger ground-dwelling animals. Agile and deadly accurate, their strong legs and razor-sharp claws enable them to scale tall trees, often even if they are without lower branches.
In the Water
Unlike many other big cats, Jaguars are very comfortable in the water and are actually quite powerful and adept swimmers, moving at surprising speed. Always on the lookout for a potential meal, in the rivers, streams or waterholes there's plenty for them to choose from, including frogs, fish, turtles, and even Caimans - alligator-like creatures that live in plentiful numbers in the swamps and tropical rivers of the South and Central American jungles. The big cat's powerful bite force is able to pierce even turtle shells and the tough exterior of the Caiman with ease.
A good Jaguar tour will include excursions at varied times of the day on both land and on the water to ensure optimal opportunities for sightings – including early morning, late evening and night safaris. For those who get to experience the sight of one of these magnificent animals in hunting mode, it is a privilege not to be taken lightly.
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 tour 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.