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About the Jaguar

Ongoing & Future


The jaguar (Panthera onca) is the largest cat native to the Americas and the third largest cat in the world, after their lion and tiger cousins. Being the only living representative of the genus Panthera found in the New World, they once roamed from the southern tip of Argentina to the U.S.-Mexico border. Today they are listed as near threatened by the IUCN and large numbers on are only found in remote regions of South and Central America. The Pantanal holds the densest population of jaguars, estimating between 4,000-7,000 jaguars in the Pantanal alone.


The name jaguar is rooted from the Tupi-Guarani word yaguar, which means “he who kills with one leap.” These majestic and unquestionably powerful beasts are regarded as a symbol of wildness and are prominent in ancient religion, mythology and art. The Maya believed the jaguar was the God of the Underworld and helped the sun travel under the Earth at night, ensuring it would rise in the morning. The Aztecs worshiped the jaguars and were positioned as guardians of their sacred temples.


Jaguars are well-known by their distinctive spotted coat pattern but can be commonly confused with that of the leopard. However, leopards are found in Africa and Asia where jaguars are only in the Americas. A clear difference in morphology is the jaguar spots, or also known as rosettes, are larger, more exploded and always have small dots in the center of the larger spots. Another difference in the two-similar species is size; jaguars are much stockier, their limbs are shorter, head is broad and muscular, and they are an overall more powerful cat.


Their size trends to increase from North to South, ranging between 80 and 325 pounds. Because if the dramatic difference in size throughout their range there was once 9 different subspecies of jaguars recognized. However, this reorganization was based on geological and morphological differences and with advance technology using mDNA they proved to be only one species of jaguar. Scientist believe the vivid differences is due mainly because of environmental differences and the size and abundance of prey species.


Jaguars are stalk and ambush predators and the only big cat that regularly kills its prey by piercing the skull or neck with their powerful canines. Surprisingly, jaguars have the second strongest bite of all land mammals, which is thought to have evolved with their preference in armored reptilian prey, such as turtles and caimans. Being the “king of the jungle”, strong climbers and excellent swimmers, jaguars diet consists of over 85 differ prey species—caiman and capybara being their favored prey in the Pantanal.


Jaguars are non-seasonal breeders and will mate any time of the year, though there are trends in birth peaks that correlate with rainy season and prey availability. Jaguars are solitary predators, only coming together for courtship and mating, leaving the female to raise her young alone. Gestation is roughly 100 days and can have from 1-4 cubs with an average of two. Cubs are blind and helpless at birth and do not leave the mothers den for the first two weeks. They beging hunting on their own at 6 months but stay within their mother’s territory for up to two years. The lifespan for wild jaguars is 12-15 years and 20-25 in captivity.


Jaguars are known to have immense territories and documented home ranges of hundreds of miles. They mark their territories with urine, scent markings, and scratching trees. While these elusive cats once wandered throughout the Americas there is only an estimated 100,000 jaguars remaining in the world today.

Mick Jaguar stalks a caiman

Fun Facts:

  • Jaguars are one of the four roaring cats. The roaring is a proclaiming of their territory or bringing together of the two sexes 

  • Jaguars are one of the few large cats that have melanistic individuals; meaning there is no such species known as the "Black Panther", it is just a jaguar or leopard with melanism.

  • Jaguars are aquatic cats and many rely on aquatic prey as their main food source

  • Jaguars actually have 5 toes, but only four leave tracks, keeping the most developed hunting claw off the ground.

  • Jaguars can eat 4 to 5kg (8 to 10lbs) of meat per day

  • The jaguars has been know to be very optimistic predators and have been documented eating carrion 

  • Jaguars have been known to be nocturnal, but studies show they are often active during the day with peaks around dawn and dust.

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