Mammal Species of the World
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DNA evidence shows that the lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, snow leopard and clouded leopard share a common ancestor and that this group is between 6 and 10 million years old.The fossil record points to the emergence of Panthera just 2 to 3.8 million years ago.Phylogenetic studies have shown that the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is basal to this group. The position of the remaining species varies between studies and is effectively unresolved.Analysis of jaguar mitochondrial DNA has dated the species lineage to between 280,000 and 510,000 years ago - later than suggested by fossil records.
Jaguar females reach sexual maturity at about 2 years of age, and males at 3 or 4. The cat mates throughout the year, although births may increase when prey is plentiful.The female oestrous - time of heightened sexual activity - is 6–17 days out of a full 37-day cycle.Females advertise fertility with urinary scent marks and increased vocalisation.A jaguar’s pregnancy lasts 93–105 days.Females give birth most commonly to 2 cubs but can have up to 4.The life-span of a jaguar in the wild is estimated to be 12–15 years.
Jaguars have a large distribution, they are found from southern Arizona and New Mexico south toward northern Argentina and northeastern Brazil. However, populations have been substantially reduced or eliminated in some areas, including El Salvador, the United States, and large portions of Mexico.
Jaguars currently encompass a range of approximately 8.75 million square kilometers, or 46% of their historical range. The largest contiguous distribution of jaguars is concentrated in the Amazon Basin and includes portions of the Cerrado, Pantanal, and Chaco areas to the south. This range extends north and east to the Caribbean coast of Venezuela and Guianas. Populations have been reduced primarily in northern Mexico, United States, northern Brazil, and southern Argentina. Populations have been extirpated in the Argentina Monte region and the grasslands of the Pampas. Jaguars are not typically found at higher elevations, such as Pantepui or Puna montane grasslands.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )
- Carrillo, E. 2007. Tracking the elusive jaguar. Natural History, 116/4: 30-34.
- Sanderson, E., K. Reford, C. Chetkiewicz, R. Medellin, A. Rabinowitz. 2002. Planning to save a species: the jaguar as a model. Conservation Biology, 16/1: 58-72.
Sanderson et al. (2002) presented a group exercise to define the most important areas for conservation of viable jaguar populations (Jaguar Conservation Units or JCUs). These 51 areas add up to 1.29 million km, or 13% of jaguar range.
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) The jaguar once ranged throughout tropical lowlands of Mexico, Central America (now very rare except in Belize), and South America (to northern Argentina); in the United States, there are records from southern California, Arizona (Hoffmeister 1986, Johnson and Van Pelt 1997), New Mexico (Findley et al. 1975, Frey 2004), Texas (Schmidly 2004), and perhaps farther east in Louisiana; most records are from Arizona, where a minimum of 64 jaguars have been killed since 1900; some believe that a breeding population formerly existed in portions of the southwestern United States (Federal Register, 13 July 1994, 22 July 1997, which see for a state-by-state review of records). The species is now absent from much of the former range; it has been extirpated as a resident in most or all of the northern extent of the range in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico (see Federal Register, 13 July 1994, p. 35676, for discussion of recent records), El Salvador, Uruguay, developed areas of Brazilian coast, all but the northernmost parts of Argentina, and elsewhere. The largest remaining population is in Amazonian Brazil (Seymour 1989). In recent decades, jaguars occasionally have strayed into the United States in southern Arizona-New Mexico.
U.S.A. (AZ, CA, LA, NM, TX), Mexico, Central and South America
Jaguars are the largest cats in the Americas and the only representative of the genus Panthera. Height at the shoulder may be up to 75 cm. Body length is 150 to 180 cm long with a tail of 70 to 90 cm. Jaguars weigh between 68 and 136 kilograms. Jaguars are powerfully built, with large, square jaws and prominent cheeks. Jaguars have lean bodies and muscular limbs. They are built for power, not speed, although they can run briefly. A jaguar was observed draging a 34 kg sea turtle 91.5 meters into the cover of a forest. They hunt by pouncing on unsuspecting prey. Base coat colors range from pale yellow to reddish brown, with black, rosette-shaped spots on the neck, body, and limbs. The belly is off white. Black, or melanistic, jaguars are fairly common and are the result of a single, dominant allele. These jaguars have a base coat color of black with black spots that are usually dimly visible against the black background. Melanistic jaguars are more common in forested habitats. The largest jaguars are found in the Brazilian Pantanal, where males average 100 kg and females 76 kg. The smallest jaguars are found in Honduras, where males average 57 kg and females 42 kg. In general, jaguars found in dense forests are smaller than those found in more open habitats, possibly because densities of large ungulate prey are greater in open habitats. Male jaguars are generally 10 to 20% larger than females. The dental formula is: I 3/3, C 1/1, PM 3/2, and M 1/1.
Range mass: 68 to 136 kg.
Average mass: 100 kg.
Range length: 1.5 to 1.85 m.
Average length: 1.75 m.
Average basal metabolic rate: 62.4190 cm3.O2/g/hr.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Average basal metabolic rate: 62.419 W.
- Baker, W., S. Deem, A. Hunt, L. Munson, S. Johnson. 2002. Jaguar species survival plan. Pp. 9-13 in C Law, ed. Guidlines for captive management of jaguars, Vol. 1/1. Forth Worth, Texas: Jaguar Species Survival Plan Management Group.
- Grzimek, B. 1973. Grzimek's animal life encyclopedia. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold Complany.
Length: 242 cm
Weight: 136000 grams
Size in North America
Range: 1,100-1,850 mm
Range: 31-158 kg
Isthmian-Atlantic Moist Forests Habitat
This taxon occurs in the Isthmian-Atlantic moist forests, an ecoregion covering the lowland Atlantic versant at chiefly below 500 metres elevation in southern Nicaragua, northern Costa Rica, and most of Panama; these moist forests represent the epitome of wet, tropical jungle. This forest ecoregion evolved from unique combinations of North American and South American flora and fauna, which came together with the joining of these continents around three million years before present.
The ecoregion is classified to be within the Tropical and Subtropical moist broadleaf forests biome. Currently, much of this ecoregion has been converted to subsistence and commercial agriculture. The Isthmian-Atlantic moist forests exhibit a high level of species richness, with 1021 vertebrate taxa alone having been recorded here, with a particularly vast assortment of amphibians, many of which are endemic or near endemic; moreover, among the amphibians there are many representatives of anuran, salamander and caecilian taxa.
This ecoregion located at the juncture of Central and South America. Condensation over the warm land produced by moisture-laden air from the Caribbean Sea colliding with the mountains produces constant high humidity and precipitation. Annual rainfall ranges from about 2500 millimetres (mm) in central Panama to over 5000 mm in southern Nicaragua. Basalt bedrock is the parent material of the residual and often unconsolidated soils covering the hilly areas of this ecoregion. Old alluvial terraces form the base of the swamp forests and flat lands in the lowest elevations and near the Caribbean Sea coast. The northern section of this ecoregion is formed of a wide, relatively flat alluvial plain, with a gradual elevation change from sea level to 500 metres in elevation
This ecoregion is characterised by a lush, high canopy tropical evergreen forest of huge buttressed trees reaching 40 metres (m) in height, and an associated rich epiphytic flora. The palm component includes many sub-canopy and understory species. Abundant subcanopy palm species are Amargo Palm (Welfia regia), Walking Palm (Socratea exorrhiza), and in permanently flooded areas, Raphia taedigera. Seasonal swamp forests occur in the lowest and flattest areas in Nicaragua and northern Costa Rica, particularly along the coastal zone, where they grade into mangrove forests. In these swamp forests, Gavilán Tree (Pentaclethra macroloba) dominates the canopy, along with Caobilla (Carapa nicaraguensis). The Almendro (Dipteryx panamensis) and the Monkey-pot Tree (Lecythis ampla) are two notable canopy emergents.
While small in areal size, the 1500 hectare La Selva Biological Station in northeastern Costa Rica hosts permanent populations of large predators such as the Jaguar (Panthera onca) and herbivores like Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii), probably because of its biological corridor connection to the upper montane forests of Braulio Carrillo National Park. The Atlantic lowlands and middle elevations contain some of the rarest butterfly species in Central America and some of the world's highest butterfly species richness.
A considerable number of amphibian taxa occur in the ecoregion. Endemic anurans to the Isthmian-Atlantic moist forests include the Misfit Leaf Frog (Agalychnis saltator), which breeds in swamps, but lives mostly in the tree canopy; the Tilaran Robber Frog (Craugastor mimus); Diasporus tigrillo and the Cross-banded Treefrog (Smilisca puma), found only on the Caribbean versant of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. A further endemic frog to the ecoregion is the Rio Changena Robber Frog (Craugastor jota), narrowly limited to Río Changena, Provincia Bocas del Toro, Panamá. Other anuran species found here are: Veragua Robber Frog (Craugastor rugosus), a nocturnal anuran whose ova are laid in leaf litter; Agua Buena Robber Frog (Diasporus vocator), whose breeding occurs in bromeliads.
An endemic reptile found in the Costa Rican part of the ecoregion is the Viquez's Tropical Ground Snake (Trimetopon viquezi). Four taxa of marine turtles are found in the ecoregion's coastal zones, including the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas EN), who may take almost six decades to reach sexual maturity; the Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata CR) is another marine species found here. In addition a number of freshwater turtles are found here such as the Brown Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys annulata LR/NT). Other reptiles found in the ecoregion include the Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus LR/NT); and Cienega Colorado Worm Salamander (Oedipina uniformis NT), a limited range amphibian found only in Costa Rica along slopes surrounding the Meseta Central.
Habitat and Ecology
A 13 year old wild female was found with cub (Brown and Lopez-Gonzalez 2001).
Density estimates ranged from 1.7-4 adults per 100 km in studies in Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Mexico summarized by Sunquist and Sunqujist (2002). Density estimates by Silver et al. (2004) from five different study sites ranged from 2.4-8.8 adults per 100 km, with the highest densitiy found in Belize's Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Reserve (rainforest), a density similar to the 6-8 per 100 km found by Rabinowitz and Nottingham (1986). That study found home ranges of females of 10 km, overlaped by male home ranges which varied from 28-40 km and also overlapped extensively. In other areas jaguar home ranges have been over 1,000 km (T. de Oliveira pers. comm. 2008).
Soisalo and Cavalcanti (2006) used GPS-telemetry to check density estimates derived from a common camera trap methodology in the Brazilian Pantanal, and cautioned that the method may over-estimate population size. Telemetry data indicated a density of 6.6-6.7 adult jaguars per 100 km, while densities derived from Maximum Distance Moved (MMDM) extrapolations from camera trap captures were higher at 10.3-11.7/100 km.
Jaguar densities in the Paraguayan Gran Chaco are 2.275.37 per 100 km (Cullen Jr. et al. in submission), and in the Colombian Amazon, 4.5/100 km in Amacayacu National Park and 2.5/100 km in unprotected areas (Payan 2008). In Brazil, densities are 2 per 100 km in the savannas of the Cerrado, 3.5/100 km in the semiarid scrub of the Caatinga, and 2.2/100 km in the Atlantic Forest (Silveira 2004, in litt. To T. de Oliveira 2008).
Comments: Habitat includes a wide variety of situations, such as tropical and subtropical forests, lowland scrub and woodland, thorn scrub, pampas/llanos, desert, swampy savanna, mangrove swamps, lagoons, marshland, and floating islands of vegetation. At the southern extreme of the range, this cat inhabits open savanna, flooded grasslands, and desert mountains; at the northern extreme it may be found in chaparral and timbered areas. Young are born in a sheltered place such as a cave or thicket, under an uprooted tree, among rocks, or under a river bank (Seymour 1989).
Jaguars prefer dense, tropical moist lowland forests that offer plenty of cover, although they are also found in scrubland, reed thickets, coastal forests, swamps, and thickets. Jaguars are excellent swimmers and are generally found in habitats near water, such as rivers, slow moving streams, lagoons, watercourses, and swamps. They are not typically found in arid areas. Jaguars have been reported from as high as 3800 m in Costa Rica, but they are generally not common in montane forests and are not found above 2700 meters in the Andes. In northern Mexico and southwestern United States, jaguars are found in oak woodlands, mesquite thickets, and riparian woodlands. Jaguars stalk their prey on the ground, preferring thick vegetation for cover. Jaguars are also able to climb trees for safety or to hunt. Jaguars require three habitat characteristics to support healthy populations: a water supply, dense cover, and sufficient prey.
Range elevation: 10 to 2000 m.
Average elevation: 100 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest
Other Habitat Features: riparian
- 1996. "IUCN - The World Conservation Union" (On-line). Jaguar (Panthera onca). Accessed December 31, 2008 at http://www.catsg.org/catsgportal/cat-website/20_cat-website/home/index_en.htm.
- Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's mammals of the world. Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Comments: Feeds on large and small mammals, reptiles and ground nest- ing birds. Known to feed on peccaries, capybaras, tapirs, agoutis, deer, small crocodilians and turtles; opportunistic, see Seymour (1989) for further details. Hunts mostly on ground but may pounce on prey from tree or ledge.
Jaguars are strictly carnivores. They eat a wide variety of prey, over 85 species have been reported in the diet of jaguars. Preferred prey are large animals, such as peccaries, tapirs, and deer. They also prey on caimans, turtles, snakes, porcupines, capybaras, fish, large birds, and many other animals. Jaguars typically attack prey by pouncing on them from a concealed spot. They either deliver a direct bite to the neck and then suffocate their prey, or they instantly kill them by piercing the back of the skull with their canines. Their powerful jaws and canines allow them to get through thick reptilian skin and turtle carapaces. Jaguars then drag their prey to a secluded spot where they eat them.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; reptiles; fish
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Jaguars are top predators and considered a keystone species because of their impact on the populations of other animals in the ecosystem. Internal parasites include lung flukes, tapeworms, hookworms, and whipworms. External parasites include ticks and warble fly larvae.
Ecosystem Impact: keystone species
- ticks (Acari)
- trematode lung flukes (Trematoda)
- tapeworms (Cestoda)
- hookworms (Strongiloidae)
- whip worms (Enoplia)
- warble fly larvae (Oestridae)
- Glen, A., C. Dickman. 2005. Complex interactions among mammilian carnivores in Australia, and implications for wildlife management. Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 80/3: 387-401.
- Labrona, M., R. Jorge, D. Sana. 2005. Ticks(acari: lxodida) on wild carnivores in Brazil. Experimental and Applied Acarology, 36/1: 151-165.
- Seymour, K. 1989. Panthera onca. Mammalian Species, 340: 1-9.
Humans are the primary predators of jaguars. Jaguars are victims of illegal poaching by humans and their pelts, paws, and teeth. They are cryptically colored and secretive, which helps them to hunt their prey and avoid detection by humans.
- humans (Homo sapiens)
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: Unknown
Comments: The number of occurrences or subpopulations is difficult to define for this species (individuals of which may range over vast areas) and not a very meaningful measure of conservation status. Population size and area of occupancy are more relevant considerations. However, see Sanderson et al. (2002), who identified jaguar-occupied areas that could be regarded as distinct occurrences or subpopulations.
10,000 - 1,000,000 individuals
Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but surely exceeded 100,000 in the 1960s (annual kills in Brazil alone were estimated at 15,000 in the 1960s). However, based on estimates of density and geographic range (Nowell and Jackson 1996), the jaguar's total effective population size has been estimated at fewer than 50,000 mature breeding individuals.
A population of 600-1,000 exists in Belize, and there may be 500 in Guatemala and no more than 500 in all of Mexico (see Nowak 1999). Studies in the 1980s estimated numbers in the Pantanal of Brazil and its peripheral area to range from 1,000 to 3,500 individuals with an additional 1,400 individuals to the north of the Pantanal in the Guapore River Basin (see Swank and Teer 1989). The Paraguayan Gran Chaco may host a few thousand jaguars based on densities of 1 per 25 to 75 square kilometers in an area of 176,000 square kilometers.
Solitary and somewhat territorial, except during breeding season. Density estimated at 4/137 sq km in Brazil, 25-30 per 250 sq km in Belize (Seymour 1989). In Belize, daily home range may be only a few sq km, but may shift to new area every week or two. Home range in Brazil was estimated at 25-76 sq km (see Kitchener 1991). Major cause of mortality is hunting by humans.
Although the jaguar prefers dense forest and lives mainly in South and Central American rain forests, it is occasionally found in open, seasonally-flooded wetlands and dry, grassland terrain.The jaguar prefers to live by rivers, swamps and in dense rainforest with thick cover for stalking prey.
Life History and Behavior
Jaguars mainly communicate through vocalizations. Vocalizations are grunting "uhs" increasing in tone and power, while decreasing in frequency between grunts. The typical vocalization includes seven to a dozen grunts, depending on whether the individual is a male, female, or female entering estrus. Males generally have more powerful vocalizations than females, whose grunts are softer except when in estrus. During estrus, female jaguars call late into the night through early dawn, using 5 to 7 grunts to announce herself. Male vocalizations in response to estrus females are hoarse and guttural. This is taken advantage of by hunters, who use a hollow gourd to mimic this call and attract jaguars to the hunter. Jaguars advertise territories through vocalizations, scraping the ground and trees, and defecating and urinating on prominent locations.
Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic ; chemical
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Comments: Active throughout the year. Hunts primarily at night, but may be active day or night (Seymour 1989).
Jaguars can live 11 to 12 years in the wild. Illness, accident, interactions with other animals, or hunting are major sources of mortality. In captivity jaguars may live over 20 years.
Status: captivity: 28 (high) years.
Status: captivity: 20 years.
Status: wild: 11 to 12 years.
Status: captivity: 20.0 years.
Status: captivity: 22.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
In tropical areas may breed throughout the year; births most common November-December in Paraguay, December-May in Brazil, March-July in Argentina, July-September in Mexico, June-August in Belize. Gestation lasts about 90-115 days. Litter size is 1-4 (average 2). Young begin to eat meat at about 10-11 weeks, though may suckle 5-6 months; remain in den about 1.5-2 months; stay with mother 1.5-2 year; females sexually mature in 2-3 years, males in 3-4 years (Seymour 1989).
Jaguars typically communicate through vocalizations. Females in estrus venture out of their territory to call during the morning and late at night, advertising for a mate. Males answer those calls with their own vocalizations and travel to her territory to mate, leading to competition between males for that mating opportunity. It is not uncommon for a female to travel with one or two male jaguars during estrus, although a dominant male will usually drive a smaller male away. Females do not tolerate the presence of males after mating and especially after their cubs are born.
Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)
The estrus cycle is usually 37 days with estrus length of 6 to 17 days. Estrus may be indicated by behavioral changes such as lordosis, flehmen, vocalization, rolling, and increased scent marking. Males may show an increase in androgen levels throughout the year, but hormone levels peak during the time of receding flood waters in some areas. Jaguars may produce offspring year-round but mating typically increases during the months of December through March. Most births occur during the wet season, when prey is more abundant. Females give birth to 2 offspring (range 1 to 4) after a gestation period of 91 to 111 days. Female reproductive maturity occurs between 12 and 24 month, males become sexually mature at 24 to 36 months.
Breeding interval: Females breed every two years.
Breeding season: Jaguars may breed throughout the year, but most births occur in wet seasons, when prey is more abundant.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 4.
Average number of offspring: 2.
Range gestation period: 91 to 111 days.
Range weaning age: 5 to 6 months.
Range time to independence: 1.75 to 2.5 years.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 12 to 24 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 24 to 36 months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
Average birth mass: 820 g.
Average number of offspring: 2.
Cubs are born with their eyes closed and are completely dependent on their mother. Their eyes open around two weeks old. Cubs nurse until they are 5 to 6 months old, at which time they begin to hunt with their mother. They depend on their mother for protection from predators, for food, and for guidance and teaching as they grow. Offspring are dependent on their mother until they are almost two years old.
Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); extended period of juvenile learning
- 1996. "IUCN - The World Conservation Union" (On-line). Jaguar (Panthera onca). Accessed December 31, 2008 at http://www.catsg.org/catsgportal/cat-website/20_cat-website/home/index_en.htm.
- Baker, W., S. Deem, A. Hunt, L. Munson, S. Johnson. 2002. Jaguar species survival plan. Pp. 9-13 in C Law, ed. Guidlines for captive management of jaguars, Vol. 1/1. Forth Worth, Texas: Jaguar Species Survival Plan Management Group.
- Grzimek, B. 1973. Grzimek's animal life encyclopedia. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold Complany.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Panthera onca
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2002Near Threatened (NT)
- 1996Lower Risk/near threatened (LR/nt)
- 1990Vulnerable (V)
- 1988Vulnerable (V)
- 1986Vulnerable (V)
- 1982Vulnerable (V)
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N1 - Critically Imperiled
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G3 - Vulnerable
Reasons: Large range extends from the southwestern U.S. to northern Argentina, but distribution and abundance have been drastically reduced due to habitat destruction, overexploitation by fur industry, illegal and excessive hunting, and predator control activities.
Date Listed: 03/28/1972
Lead Region: Southwest Region (Region 2)
Where Listed: U.S.A(AZ,CA,LA,NM,TX),Mexico,Central and South America
Population location: U.S.A(AZ,CA,LA,NM,TX),Mexico,Central and South America
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Panthera onca , see its USFWS Species Profile
- deforestation across its habitat
- increasing competition for food with humans
- hurricanes in northern parts of its range
- the behaviour of ranchers who will often kill the cat where it preys on livestock
- all international trade in jaguars or their parts is prohibited
- all hunting of jaguars is prohibited in Argentina, Belize, Colombia, French Guiana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Surinam, the United States (where it is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act), Uruguay and Venezuela
- hunting jaguars is restricted to ‘problem animals’ in Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru, while trophy hunting is still permitted in Bolivia
- the species has no legal protection in Ecuador or Guyana
Current conservation efforts focus on educating ranch owners and promoting eco-tourism.The jaguar is defined as an ‘umbrella species’ - a species whose home range and habitat requirements are sufficiently broad that if protected, numerous other species of smaller range will also be protected.In 1991, 600–1,000 jaguars - the highest total to date - were estimated to be living in Belize.In 2003 and 2004, researchers using GPS-telemetry found only 6 or 7 jaguars per 100 square kilometres in the Pantanal region of Brazil.Jaguar conservation occurs by protecting jaguar hotspots. These hotspots are large areas populated by about 50 jaguars.To maintain the species it is important that the jaguar gene pool is mixed, and this depends on jaguars being interconnected. A new project, the Paseo del Jaguar has been established to connect jaguar hotspots.
Jaguars are considered near threatened by the IUCN. They are considered endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and are on Appendix I of CITES. Many populations remain stable but jaguars are threatened throughout most of their range by hunting, persecution, and habitat destruction. Jaguars are persecuted especially in areas of cattle ranching, where they are often shot on sight despite protective legislation.
US Federal List: endangered
CITES: appendix i
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: near threatened
Jaguar conservation projects
Learn more about current and concluded jaguar conservation projects executed by NGOs, government ministries and research institutions in the Rainforest Alliance's Eco-Index: www.eco-index.org/search/keyword_complete.cfm?keyword=jaguar.
Other high probability areas for long-term jaguar persistence include tropical moist lowland forest in Central America: the Selva Maya of Guatemla, Mexico and Belize; and a narrow strip of the Choco-Darien of Panama and Colombia to northern Honduras. Densities in the Belizean Selva Maya rainforest were estimated at 7.5-8.8/100 km (Silver et al. 2004). The Talamanca Mountains of Costa Rica and Panama also host a populations, but the long term persistence is uncertain (Gonzalez-Maya et al. 2007).
Eighteen percent of jaguar range (1.6 million km) was estimated to have medium probability of long-term survival. These areas are generally adjacent to high-probability areas and include a large portion of the northern Cerrado, most of the Venezuelan and Colombian llanos, and the northern part of Colombia on the Caribbean coast. In Central America and Mexico, medium-probability areas include the highlands of Costa Rica and Panama, southern Mexico, and the two eastern mountain ranges of Mexico, Sierra de Taumalipas and the Sierra Madre Oriental.
The remainder of jaguar range was classified as low probability for jaguar survival, and of most urgent conservation concern. These areas include the Atlantic Tropical Forest and Cerrado of Brazil; parts of the Chaco in northern Argentina; the Gran Sabana of northern Brazil, Venezuela and Guyana; parts of the coastal dry forest in Venezuela; and the remainder of the range in Central America and Mexico.
Some of the most important areas for jaguar conservation (Jaguar Conservation Units) fell within parts of jaguar range where probability for long-term survival was considered low, and so represent the most endangered jaguar populations. These include the Atlantic Forests of Brazil, northern Argentina, central Honduras, and the Osa peninsula of Costa Rica (Sanderson et al. 2002). The Atlantic Forest subpopulation in Brazil has been estimated at 200+/- 80 adults (Leite et al. 2002). Jaguar populations in the Chaco region of northern Argentina and Brazil, and the Brazilian Caatinga, are low-density and highly threatened by livestock ranching and persecution (Altrichter et al. 2006, T. de Oliveira pers. comm. 2008).
Global Short Term Trend: Decline of 10 to >90%
Global Long Term Trend: Decline of 30-70%
Comments: Sanderson et al. (2002) determined that, as of 1999, the known, occupied range of the jaguar had contracted to approximately 46% of estimates of its 1900 range; jaguar status and distribution were unknown in another 12% of the jaguar's former range, including large areas in Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. Of the historical range, jaguars are known to have been extirpated in 37% of the area, while jaguar status in 18% of the area is unknown (Sanderson et al. 2002).
Commercial hunting and trapping of jaguars for their pelts has declined drastically since the mid-1970's, when anti-fur campaigns and CITES controls progressively shut down international markets (Nowell and Jackson 1996). However, although hunting has decreased there is still demand for jaguar paws, teeth and other products.
Degree of Threat: Medium
Comments: Rapid declines occurred in Central and South America during the 1960s due to human exploitation. During this period more than 15,000 skins were brought out of the Brazilian Amazon alone each year (see Weber and Rabinowitz 1996). Approximately 13,500 pelts entered the United States in 1968 (Nowak 1999).
Subsequent national and international conservation agreements appear to have reduced the kill (Nowak 1999), but declines have continued due to deforestation and habitat fragmentation, blockage of movement corridors, excessive human exploitation of jaguar prey, human take due to conflicts with the livestock industry, illegal hunting, and predator control activities (Weber and Rabinowitz 1996). Populations isolated by deforestation probably incur increased vulnerability to killing by humans (many are shot on sight regardless of protection).
Although direct killing and habitat destruction are responsible for declines, the importance of these activities varies regionally due to differences in habitat, prey availability, economic development, and cultural mores (Quigley and Crawshaw 1992). Future development in and around the Pantanal will eliminate populations (Quigley and Crawshaw 1992).
With habitat fragmentation a major threat, and taxonomic research suggesting little significant differences among jaguar populations, an ambitious program has been launched to conserve a continuous north to south habitat corridor through the species range (Rabinowitz 2007).
Addressing livestock management and problem animal issues is a high priority for conservation effort in many jaguar range countries.
Biological Research Needs: Obtain better information on movments and population structure and dynamics.
Global Protection: Several (4-12) occurrences appropriately protected and managed
Comments: The jaguar is included in CITES Appendix I. It is fully protected at the national level across most of the range, with hunting prohibited in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and hunting restrictions in place in Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru (Nowell and Jackson 1996). The species also occurs within protected areas in some of its range.
Many large areas of habitat have been protected in the Neotropics and current conservation efforts focus on protection of a biological corridor along the land bridge between North and South America (Weber and Rabinowitz 1996).
Needs: Protect large tracts of habitat with adequate prey and low levels of human activity.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Comments: In the 1960s, an estimated 15,000 were being killed annually (for the fur industry) in the Amazonian region of Brazil. The recorded number of pelts entering the U.S. in 1968 was 13,516. See Nowak (1991).
Jaguars occasionally hunt cattle and other livestock, which leads to persecution by ranchers. Some countries, such as Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru, prohibit hunting jaguars to only "problem animals" that repeatedly kill livestock. Bolivia allows trophy hunting of jaguars. Jaguars do not attack humans without provocation. Occasionally jaguars have been observed following humans, but this is thought to be to "escort" them out of their territory.
Negative Impacts: injures humans (bites or stings)
Jaguars are top predators and keystone species in the ecosystems they inhabit. Jaguar pelts and furs are sold for profit, despite it being illegal to hunt them in most countries. The implementation of laws protecting jaguars has improved in recent years. Jaguars are also an important source of ecotourism income to local communities where jaguars might be observed.
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material; ecotourism ; research and education
The jaguar (/, , / or //; Brazilian Portuguese: [ʒɐˈɡwaʁ], Spanish: [xaˈɣwar]), Panthera onca, is a big cat, a feline in the Panthera genus, and is the only extant Panthera species native to the Americas. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The jaguar's present range extends from Southwestern United States and Mexico across much of Central America and south to Paraguay and northern Argentina. Apart from a known and possibly breeding population in Arizona (southeast of Tucson), the cat has largely been extirpated from the United States since the early 20th century.
This spotted cat most closely resembles the leopard physically, although it is usually larger and of sturdier build and its behavioral and habitat characteristics are closer to those of the tiger. While dense rainforest is its preferred habitat, the jaguar will range across a variety of forested and open terrains. It is strongly associated with the presence of water and is notable, along with the tiger, as a feline that enjoys swimming. The jaguar is largely a solitary, opportunistic, stalk-and-ambush predator at the top of the food chain (an apex predator). It is a keystone species, playing an important role in stabilizing ecosystems and regulating the populations of the animals it hunts. The jaguar has an exceptionally powerful bite, even relative to the other big cats. This allows it to pierce the shells of armored reptiles and to employ an unusual killing method: it bites directly through the skull of prey between the ears to deliver a fatal bite to the brain.
The jaguar is a near threatened species and its numbers are declining. Threats include loss and fragmentation of habitat. While international trade in jaguars or their parts is prohibited, the cat is still frequently killed by humans, particularly in conflicts with ranchers and farmers in South America. Although reduced, its range remains large. Given its historical distribution, the jaguar has featured prominently in the mythology of numerous indigenous American cultures, including those of the Maya and Aztec.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Taxonomy and evolution
- 3 Biology and behavior
- 4 Ecology
- 5 Conservation status
- 6 In mythology and culture
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
The word 'jaguar' comes to English from one of the Tupi–Guarani languages, presumably the Amazonian trade language Tupinambá, via Portuguese jaguar. The Tupian word, yaguara "beast", is sometimes translated as "dog". The specific word for jaguar is yaguareté, with the suffix -eté meaning "real" or "true".
The first component of its taxonomic designation, Panthera, is Latin, from the Greek word for leopard, πάνθηρ, the type species for the genus. This has been said to derive from the παν- "all" and θήρ from θηρευτής "predator", meaning "predator of all" (animals), though this may be a folk etymology—it may instead be ultimately of Sanskrit origin, from pundarikam, the Sanskrit word for "tiger".
Onca is the Portuguese onça, with the cedilla dropped for typographical reasons, found in English as ounce for the snow leopard, Panthera uncia. It derives from the Latin lyncea lynx, with the letter L confused with the definite article (Italian lonza, Old French l'once).
Taxonomy and evolution
The jaguar, Panthera onca, is the only extant New World member of the Panthera genus. DNA evidence shows the lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, snow leopard, and clouded leopard share a common ancestor, and that this group is between six and ten million years old; the fossil record points to the emergence of Panthera just two to 3.8 million years ago. Phylogenetic studies generally have shown the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is basal to this group. The position of the remaining species varies between studies and is effectively unresolved.
Based on morphological evidence, British zoologist Reginald Pocock concluded the jaguar is most closely related to the leopard. However, DNA evidence is inconclusive and the position of the jaguar relative to the other species varies between studies. Fossils of extinct Panthera species, such as the European jaguar (Panthera gombaszoegensis) and the American lion (Panthera atrox), show characteristics of both the lion and the jaguar. Analysis of jaguar mitochondrial DNA has dated the species' lineage to between 280,000 and 510,000 years ago, later than suggested by fossil records.
While jaguars now live only in the Americas, they are descended from Old World cats. Two million years ago, scientists believe, the jaguar and its closest relative, the similarly spotted leopard, shared a common ancestor in Asia. In the early Pleistocene, the forerunners of modern jaguars crossed Beringia, the land bridge that once spanned the Bering Strait and connected Asia and North America. These jaguar ancestors then moved south into Central and South America, feeding on the deer and other grazing animals that once covered the landscape in huge herds.
The last taxonomic delineation of the jaguar subspecies was performed by Pocock in 1939. Based on geographic origins and skull morphology, he recognized eight subspecies. However, he did not have access to sufficient specimens to critically evaluate all subspecies, and he expressed doubt about the status of several. Later consideration of his work suggested only three subspecies should be recognized.
Recent studies have also failed to find evidence for well-defined subspecies, which are no longer recognized. Larson (1997) studied the morphological variation in the jaguar and showed there is clinal north–south variation, but also the differentiation within the supposed subspecies is larger than that between them, and thus does not warrant subspecies subdivision. A genetic study by Eizirik and coworkers in 2001 confirmed the absence of a clear geographical subspecies structure, although they found that major geographical barriers, such as the Amazon River, limited the exchange of genes between the different populations. A subsequent, more detailed study confirmed the predicted population structure within the Colombian jaguars.
- Panthera onca onca: Venezuela through the Amazon, including
- P. o. peruviana (Peruvian jaguar): Coastal Peru
- P. o. hernandesii (Mexican jaguar'): Western Mexico – including
- P. o. palustris (the largest subspecies, weighing more than 135 kg or 300 lb): The Pantanal regions of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, along the Paraguay River into Paraguay and northeastern Argentina.
The Mammal Species of the World continues to recognize nine subspecies, the eight subspecies above and additionally P. o. paraguensis.
Biology and behavior
The jaguar, a compact and well-muscled animal, is the largest cat in the New World and the largest carnivorous mammal in Central and South America. Size and weight vary considerably: weights are normally in the range of 56–96 kg (124–211 lb). Larger males have been recorded to weigh as much as 158 kg (348 lb) (roughly matching a tigress or lioness), and the smallest females have low weights of 36 kg (79 lb). Females are typically 10–20% smaller than males. The length, from the nose to the base of the tail, of the cats varies from 1.12 to 1.85 m (3.7 to 6.1 ft). Their tails are the shortest of any big cat, at 45 to 75 cm (18 to 30 in) in length. Their legs are also short, considerably shorter when compared to a small tiger or lion in a similar weight range, but are thick and powerful. The jaguar stands 63 to 76 cm (25 to 30 in) tall at the shoulders. Compared to the similarly colored Old World leopard, this cat is bigger, heavier and relatively stocky in build.
Further variations in size have been observed across regions and habitats, with size tending to increase from the north to south. A study of the jaguar in the Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve on the Mexican Pacific coast, showed ranges of just about 50 kg (110 lb), about the size of a female cougar. Jaguars in Venezuela or Brazil are much larger with average weights of about 95 kg (220 lb) in males and of about 56 kilograms (123 lb) to 78 kilograms (172 lb) in females. In the Brazilian Pantanal, weights of 136 kilograms (300 lb) or more are not uncommon in old males, with the highest recorded weight being 148 kilograms (326 lb). Forest jaguars are frequently darker and considerably smaller than those found in open areas (the Pantanal is an open wetland basin), possibly due to the smaller numbers of large, herbivorous prey in forest areas.
A short and stocky limb structure makes the jaguar adept at climbing, crawling, and swimming. The head is robust and the jaw extremely powerful, it has the third highest bite force of all felids, after lion and tiger. A 100 kg (220 lb) jaguar can bite with a force of 503.57 kgf (1110 lbf) at canine teeth and 705.79 kgf (1556 lbf) at carnassial notch. This strength adaptation allows the jaguar to pierce turtle shells. A comparative study of bite force adjusted for body size ranked it as the top felid, alongside the clouded leopard and ahead of the lion and tiger. It has been reported that "an individual jaguar can drag an 800 lb (360 kg) bull 25 ft (7.6 m) in its jaws and pulverize the heaviest bones". The jaguar hunts wild animals weighing up to 300 kg (660 lb) in dense jungle, and its short and sturdy physique is thus an adaptation to its prey and environment. The base coat of the jaguar is generally a tawny yellow, but can range to reddish-brown and black, for most of the body. However, the ventral areas are white. The cat is covered in rosettes for camouflage in the dappled light of its forest habitat. The spots vary over individual coats and between individual jaguars: rosettes may include one or several dots, and the shapes of the dots vary. The spots on the head and neck are generally solid, as are those on the tail, where they may merge to form a band.
While the jaguar closely resembles the leopard, it is sturdier and heavier, and the two animals can be distinguished by their rosettes: the rosettes on a jaguar's coat are larger, fewer in number, usually darker, and have thicker lines and small spots in the middle that the leopard lacks. Jaguars also have rounder heads and shorter, stockier limbs compared to leopards.
The black morph is less common than the spotted form but, at about six percent of the population, it is several orders of magnitude above the mutation rate. Hence, it is being supported by selection. Some evidence indicates the melanism allele is dominant. The black form may be an example of heterozygote advantage; breeding in captivity is not yet conclusive on this.
Extremely rare albino individuals, sometimes called white panthers, also occur among jaguars, as with the other big cats. As usual with albinos in the wild, selection keeps the frequency close to the rate of mutation.
Reproduction and life cycle
Jaguar females reach sexual maturity at about two years of age, and males at three or four. The cat is believed to mate throughout the year in the wild, although births may increase when prey is plentiful. Research on captive male jaguars supports the year-round mating hypothesis, with no seasonal variation in semen traits and ejaculatory quality; low reproductive success has also been observed in captivity. Female estrus is 6–17 days out of a full 37-day cycle, and females will advertise fertility with urinary scent marks and increased vocalization. Both sexes will range more widely than usual during courtship.
Pairs separate after mating, and females provide all parenting. The gestation period lasts 93–105 days; females give birth to up to four cubs, and most commonly to two. The mother will not tolerate the presence of males after the birth of cubs, given a risk of infanticide; this behavior is also found in the tiger.
The young are born blind, gaining sight after two weeks. Cubs are weaned at three months, but remain in the birth den for six months before leaving to accompany their mother on hunts. They will continue in their mother's company for one to two years before leaving to establish a territory for themselves. Young males are at first nomadic, jostling with their older counterparts until they succeed in claiming a territory. Typical lifespan in the wild is estimated at around 12–15 years; in captivity, the jaguar lives up to 23 years, placing it among the longest-lived cats.
Like most cats, the jaguar is solitary outside mother–cub groups. Adults generally meet only to court and mate (though limited noncourting socialization has been observed anecdotally) and carve out large territories for themselves. Female territories, which range from 25 to 40 km2 in size, may overlap, but the animals generally avoid one another. Male ranges cover roughly twice as much area, varying in size with the availability of game and space, and do not overlap. The jaguar uses scrape marks, urine, and feces to mark its territory.
Like the other big cats, the jaguar is capable of roaring and does so to warn territorial and mating competitors away; intensive bouts of counter-calling between individuals have been observed in the wild. Their roar often resembles a repetitive cough, and they may also vocalize mews and grunts. Mating fights between males occur, but are rare, and aggression avoidance behavior has been observed in the wild. When it occurs, conflict is typically over territory: a male's range may encompass that of two or three females, and he will not tolerate intrusions by other adult males.
The jaguar is often described as nocturnal, but is more specifically crepuscular (peak activity around dawn and dusk). Both sexes hunt, but males travel farther each day than females, befitting their larger territories. The jaguar may hunt during the day if game is available and is a relatively energetic feline, spending as much as 50–60% of its time active. The jaguar's elusive nature and the inaccessibility of much of its preferred habitat make it a difficult animal to sight, let alone study.
Hunting and diet
Like all cats, the jaguar is an obligate carnivore, feeding only on meat. It is an opportunistic hunter and its diet encompasses at least 87 species. The jaguar can take virtually any terrestrial or riparian vertebrate found in Central or South America, with a preference for large prey. The jaguar is more of a dietary generalist than its Old World cousins: the American tropics have a high diversity of small animals but relatively low populations and diversity of the large ungulates which this genus favors. They regularly take adult caimans, deer, capybaras, tapirs, peccaries, dogs, zorros, and sometimes even anacondas. However, the cat will eat any small species that can be caught, including frogs, mice, birds (mainly ground-based species such as cracids), fish, sloths, monkeys, and turtles; a study conducted in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize, for example, revealed that the diets of jaguars there consisted primarily of armadillos and pacas. Some jaguars will also take domestic livestock, including adult cattle and horses.
While the jaguar often employs the deep throat-bite and suffocation technique typical among Panthera, it sometimes uses a killing method unique amongst cats: it pierces directly through the temporal bones of the skull between the ears of prey (especially the capybara) with its canine teeth, piercing the brain. This may be an adaptation to "cracking open" turtle shells; following the late Pleistocene extinctions, armored reptiles such as turtles would have formed an abundant prey base for the jaguar. The skull bite is employed with mammals in particular; with reptiles such as the caiman, the jaguar may leap onto the back of the prey and sever the cervical vertebrae, immobilizing the target. While capable of cracking turtle shells, the jaguar may simply smash into the shell with its paw and scoop out the flesh. When attacking sea turtles, including the huge Leatherback sea turtle which weighs about 385 kg (849 lb) on average, as they try to nest on beaches, the jaguar will bite at the head, often beheading the prey, before dragging it off to eat. Reportedly, while hunting horses, a jaguar may leap onto their back, place one paw on the muzzle and another on the nape and then twist, dislocating the neck. Local people have anecdotally reported that when hunting a pair of horses bound together, the jaguar will kill one horse and then drag it while the other horse, still living, is dragged in their wake. With prey such as smaller dogs, a paw swipe to the skull may be sufficient to kill it.
The jaguar is a stalk-and-ambush rather than a chase predator. The cat will walk slowly down forest paths, listening for and stalking prey before rushing or ambushing. The jaguar attacks from cover and usually from a target's blind spot with a quick pounce; the species' ambushing abilities are considered nearly peerless in the animal kingdom by both indigenous people and field researchers, and are probably a product of its role as an apex predator in several different environments. The ambush may include leaping into water after prey, as a jaguar is quite capable of carrying a large kill while swimming; its strength is such that carcasses as large as a heifer can be hauled up a tree to avoid flood levels.
On killing prey, the jaguar will drag the carcass to a thicket or other secluded spot. It begins eating at the neck and chest, rather than the midsection. The heart and lungs are consumed, followed by the shoulders. The daily food requirement of a 34 kg (75 lb) animal, at the extreme low end of the species' weight range, has been estimated at 1.4 kg (3.1 lb). For captive animals in the 50–60 kg (110–130 lb) range, more than 2 kg (4.4 lb) of meat daily are recommended. In the wild, consumption is naturally more erratic; wild cats expend considerable energy in the capture and kill of prey, and they may consume up to 25 kg (55 lb) of meat at one feeding, followed by periods of famine. Unlike all other Panthera species, jaguars very rarely attack humans. In most of the few cases where a jaguar has turned to taking a human, the animal was either old with damaged teeth or wounded. Sometimes, if scared or threatened, jaguars in captivity may lash out at zookeepers.
Distribution and habitat
The jaguar has been an American cat since crossing the Bering Land Bridge during the Pleistocene epoch; the immediate ancestor of modern animals is Panthera onca augusta, which was larger than the contemporary cat. Its present range extends from Mexico, through Central America and into South America, including much of Amazonian Brazil. The countries included in this range are Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica (particularly on the Osa Peninsula), Ecuador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, the United States and Venezuela. The jaguar is now extinct in El Salvador and Uruguay. It occurs in the 400 km² Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize, the 5,300 km² Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, the approximately 15,000 km2 Manú National Park in Peru, the approximately 26,000 km2 Xingu National Park in Brazil, and numerous other reserves throughout its range.
The inclusion of the United States in the list is based on occasional sightings in the southwest, particularly in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. In the early 20th century, the jaguar's range extended as far north as the Grand Canyon, and as far west as Southern California. The jaguar is a protected species in the United States under the Endangered Species Act, which has stopped the shooting of the animal for its pelt. In 1996 and from 2004 on, wildlife officials in Arizona photographed and documented jaguars in the southern part of the state. Between 2004 and 2007, two or three jaguars have been reported by researchers around Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona. One of them, called 'Macho B', had been previously photographed in 1996 in the area. For any permanent population in the USA to thrive, protection from killing, an adequate prey base, and connectivity with Mexican populations are essential. In February 2009, a 53.5 kg (118 lb) jaguar was caught, radio-collared and released in an area southwest of Tucson, Arizona; this is farther north than had previously been expected and represents a sign there may be a permanent breeding population of jaguars within southern Arizona. The animal was later confirmed to be indeed the same male individual ('Macho B') that was photographed in 2004. On 2 March 2009, Macho B was recaptured and euthanized after he was found to be suffering from kidney failure; the animal was thought to be 16 years old, older than any known wild jaguar.
Completion of the United States–Mexico barrier as currently proposed will reduce the viability of any population currently residing in the United States, by reducing gene flow with Mexican populations, and prevent any further northward expansion for the species.
The historic range of the species included much of the southern half of the United States, and in the south extended much farther to cover most of the South American continent. In total, its northern range has receded 1,000 km (621 mi) southward and its southern range 2,000 km (1243 mi) northward. Ice age fossils of the jaguar, dated between 40,000 and 11,500 years ago, have been discovered in the United States, including some at an important site as far north as Missouri. Fossil evidence shows jaguars of up to 190 kg (420 lb), much larger than the contemporary average for the animal.
The habitat of the cat includes the rain forests of South and Central America, open, seasonally flooded wetlands, and dry grassland terrain. Of these habitats, the jaguar much prefers dense forest; the cat has lost range most rapidly in regions of drier habitat, such as the Argentinian pampas, the arid grasslands of Mexico, and the southwestern United States. The cat will range across tropical, subtropical, and dry deciduous forests (including, historically, oak forests in the United States). The jaguar is strongly associated with water, and it often prefers to live by rivers, swamps, and in dense rainforest with thick cover for stalking prey. Jaguars have been found at elevations as high as 3,800 m, but they typically avoid montane forest and are not found in the high plateau of central Mexico or in the Andes.
Substantial evidence exists for a colony of nonnative, melanistic leopards or jaguars inhabiting the rainforests around Sydney, Australia. A local report compiled statements from over 450 individuals recounting their stories of sighting large black cats in the area, and confidential NSW Government documents regarding the matter proved wildlife authorities were so concerned about the big cats and the danger to humans, they commissioned an expert to catch one. The three-day hunt later failed, but ecologist Johannes J. Bauer warned: "Difficult as it seems to accept, the most likely explanation is the presence of a large, feline predator. In this area, [it is] most likely a leopard, less likely a jaguar."
The adult jaguar is an apex predator, meaning it exists at the top of its food chain and is not preyed on in the wild. The jaguar has also been termed a keystone species, as it is assumed, through controlling the population levels of prey such as herbivorous and granivorous mammals, apex felids maintain the structural integrity of forest systems. However, accurately determining what effect species like the jaguar have on ecosystems is difficult, because data must be compared from regions where the species is absent as well as its current habitats, while controlling for the effects of human activity. It is accepted that mid-sized prey species undergo population increases in the absence of the keystone predators, and this has been hypothesized to have cascading negative effects. However, field work has shown this may be natural variability and the population increases may not be sustained. Thus, the keystone predator hypothesis is not accepted by all scientists.
The jaguar also has an effect on other predators. The jaguar and the cougar, the next-largest feline of the Americas, are often sympatric (related species sharing overlapping territory) and have often been studied in conjunction. Where sympatric with the jaguar, the cougar is smaller than normal and is smaller than the local jaguars. The jaguar tends to take larger prey, usually over 22 kg (49 lb) and the cougar smaller, usually between 2 and 22 kg (4.4 and 48.5 lb), reducing the latter's size. This situation may be advantageous to the cougar. Its broader prey niche, including its ability to take smaller prey, may give it an advantage over the jaguar in human-altered landscapes; while both are classified as near-threatened species, the cougar has a significantly larger current distribution.
Jaguar populations are rapidly declining. The animal is considered Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), meaning it may be threatened with extinction in the near future. The loss of parts of its range, including its virtual elimination from its historic northern areas and the increasing fragmentation of the remaining range, have contributed to this status. The 1960s had particularly significant declines, with more than 15,000 jaguar skins brought out of the Brazilian Amazon yearly; the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of 1973 brought about a sharp decline in the pelt trade. Detailed work performed under the auspices of the Wildlife Conservation Society revealed the animal has lost 37% of its historic range, with its status unknown in an additional 18%. More encouragingly, the probability of long-term survival was considered high in 70% of its remaining range, particularly in the Amazon basin and the adjoining Gran Chaco and Pantanal. In 1990 Belize created the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary as the world's first wilderness reserve for jaguar protection and study.
The major risks to the jaguar include deforestation across its habitat, increasing competition for food with human beings, poaching, hurricanes in northern parts of its range, and the behavior of ranchers who will often kill the cat where it preys on livestock. When adapted to the prey, the jaguar has been shown to take cattle as a large portion of its diet; while land clearance for grazing is a problem for the species, the jaguar population may have increased when cattle were first introduced to South America, as the animals took advantage of the new prey base. This willingness to take livestock has induced ranch owners to hire full-time jaguar hunters, and the cat is often shot on sight.
The jaguar is regulated as an Appendix I species under CITES: all international trade in jaguars or their parts is prohibited. All hunting of jaguars is prohibited in Argentina, Belize, Colombia, French Guiana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, the United States (where it is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act), Uruguay and Venezuela. Hunting of jaguars is restricted to "problem animals" in Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru, while trophy hunting is still permitted in Bolivia. The species has no legal protection in Ecuador or Guyana.
Current conservation efforts often focus on educating ranch owners and promoting ecotourism. The jaguar is generally defined as an umbrella species – its home range and habitat requirements are sufficiently broad that, if protected, numerous other species of smaller range will also be protected. Umbrella species serve as "mobile links" at the landscape scale, in the jaguar's case through predation. Conservation organizations may thus focus on providing viable, connected habitat for the jaguar, with the knowledge other species will also benefit.
Given the inaccessibility of much of the species' range, particularly the central Amazon, estimating jaguar numbers is difficult. Researchers typically focus on particular bioregions, thus species-wide analysis is scant. In 1991, 600–1,000 (the highest total) were estimated to be living in Belize. A year earlier, 125–180 jaguars were estimated to be living in Mexico's 4,000-km2 (2400-mi2) Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, with another 350 in the state of Chiapas. The adjoining Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala, with an area measuring 15,000 km2 (9,000 mi2), may have 465–550 animals. Work employing GPS telemetry in 2003 and 2004 found densities of only six to seven jaguars per 100 km2 in the critical Pantanal region, compared with 10 to 11 using traditional methods; this suggests the widely used sampling methods may inflate the actual numbers of cats.
In the past, conservation of jaguars sometimes occurred through the protection of jaguar "hotspots". These hotspots, described as jaguar conservation units, were large areas populated by about 50 jaguars. However, some researchers recently determined, to maintain a robust sharing of the jaguar gene pool necessary for maintaining the species, it is important that the jaguars are interconnected. To facilitate this, a new project, the Paseo del Jaguar, has been established to connect several jaguar hotspots.
Jaguars in the United States
The only extant cat native to North America that roars, the jaguar was recorded as an animal of the Americas by Thomas Jefferson in 1799. There are multiple zoological reports of jaguar in California, two as far north as Monterey in 1814 (Langsdorff) and 1826 (Beechey). The coastal Diegueño (Kumeyaay people) of San Diego and Cahuilla Indians of Palm Springs had words for jaguar and the cats persisted there until about 1860. The only recorded description of an active jaguar den with breeding adults and kittens in the U.S. was in the Tehachapi Mountains of California prior to 1860. In 1843, Rufus Sage, an explorer and experienced observer recorded jaguar present on the headwaters of the North Platte River 30–50 miles north of Long's Peak in Colorado. Cabot's 1544 map has a drawing of jaguar ranging over the Pennsylvania and Ohio valleys. Historically, the jaguar was recorded in far eastern Texas, and the northern parts of Arizona and New Mexico. However, since the 1940s, the jaguar has been limited to the southern parts of these states. Although less reliable than zoological records, native American artefacts with possible jaguar motifs range from the Pacific Northwest to Pennsylvania and Florida.
Jaguars were rapidly eliminated in the United States. The last female jaguar in the United States was shot by a hunter in Arizona's White Mountains in 1963. Arizona outlawed jaguar hunting in 1969, but by then no females remained and over the next 25 years only two male jaguars were found (and killed) in Arizona. Then in 1996, Warner Glenn, a rancher and hunting guide from Douglas, Arizona, came across a jaguar in the Peloncillo Mountains and became a jaguar researcher, placing webcams which recorded four more Arizona jaguars. None of the other four male jaguars sighted in Arizona in the last 15 years have been seen since 2006. Then, in 2009, a male jaguar named Macho B, died shortly after being radio-collared by Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) officials in 2009. In the Macho B incident, a former AGFD subcontractor pleaded guilty to violating the endangered species act for trapping the cat and a Game and Fish employee was fired for lying to federal investigators. In 2011, a 200-pound male jaguar was photographed near Cochise in southern Arizona by a hunter after being treed by his dogs (the animal left the scene unharmed). A second 2011 sighting of an Arizona jaguar was reported by a Homeland Security border pilot in June 2011, and conservation researchers sighted two jaguars within 30 miles of the Mexico/U.S. border in 2010. In September 2012, a jaguar was photographed in the Santa Rita Mountains of Arizona, the second such sighting in this region in two years. Apparently this jaguar has been photographed numerous times over the past nine months through June 2013.
Legal action by the Center for Biological Diversity led to federal listing of the cat on the endangered species list in 1997. However, on January 7, 2008, George W. Bush appointee H. Dale Hall, Director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), signed a recommendation to abandon jaguar recovery as a federal goal under the Endangered Species Act. Critics, including the Center of Biological Diversity and New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, were concerned the jaguar was being sacrificed for the government's new border fence, which is to be built along many of the cat's typical crossings between the United States and Mexico. In 2010, the Obama Administration reversed the Bush Administration policy and pledged to protect "critical habitat" and draft a recovery plan for the species. The USFWS was ultimately ordered by the court to develop a jaguar recovery plan and designate critical habitat for the cats. On August 20, 2012, the USFWS proposed setting aside 838,232 acres in Arizona and New Mexico—an area larger than Rhode Island—as critical jaguar habitat. On March 4, 2014 Federal wildlife officials set aside nearly 1,200 square miles along the U.S.-Mexico border as habitat essential for the conservation of the jaguar. The reservation includes parts of Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties in Arizona and Hidalgo County in New Mexico.
In mythology and culture
In pre-Columbian Central and South America, the jaguar was a symbol of power and strength. Among the Andean cultures, a jaguar cult disseminated by the early Chavín culture became accepted over most of what is today Peru by 900 BC. The later Moche culture of northern Peru used the jaguar as a symbol of power in many of their ceramics.
In Mesoamerica, the Olmec—an early and influential culture of the Gulf Coast region roughly contemporaneous with the Chavín—developed a distinct "were-jaguar" motif of sculptures and figurines showing stylised jaguars or humans with jaguar characteristics. In the later Maya civilization, the jaguar was believed to facilitate communication between the living and the dead and to protect the royal household. The Maya saw these powerful felines as their companions in the spiritual world, and a number of Maya rulers bore names that incorporated the Mayan word for jaguar (b'alam in many of the Mayan languages). The Aztec civilization shared this image of the jaguar as the representative of the ruler and as a warrior. The Aztecs formed an elite warrior class known as the Jaguar Knights. In Aztec mythology, the jaguar was considered to be the totem animal of the powerful deity Tezcatlipoca.
The jaguar and its name are widely used as a symbol in contemporary culture. It is the national animal of Guyana, and is featured in its coat of arms. The flag of the Department of Amazonas, a Colombian department, features a black jaguar silhouette pouncing towards a hunter. The jaguar also appears in banknotes of Brazilian real. The jaguar is also a common fixture in the mythology of many contemporary native cultures in South America, usually being portrayed as the creature which gave humans the power over fire.
Jaguar is widely used as a product name, most prominently for a British luxury car brand. The name has been adopted by sports franchises, including the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars and the Mexican soccer club Chiapas F.C. The crest of Argentina's national federation in rugby union features a jaguar; however, because of a historic accident, the country's national team is nicknamed Los Pumas. In the spirit of the ancient Mayan culture, the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City adopted a red jaguar as the first official Olympic mascot.
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Names and Taxonomy
Comments: This species has been placed in the genus Felis by some authors. It was included in the genus Panthera by Wozencraft (in Wilson and Reeder 1993, 2005) and sources cited therein.