Jaguar Wild Cat – June 2009: As you might have guessed this article is called, “Jaguar wild cat”, because about 99% of people searching for information about the jaguar, are searching for information about the car. Yes, it’s as high as that (measured through keywords). It is very telling and says a lot about why the survival in the wild of many wildcats is in a perilous situation. Many products and teams are named after the jaguar because we admire the animal. Unfortunately, admiration does not always translate to respect as its population is in decline due to human activity.
This page contains a customised Google map of the Jaguar range that is based as accurately as possible on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ map. It is designed to be refined by anyone with the will and the ability to do so! If you’d like to try please go to the original, which opens in a new window: Jaguar Range 2009. The range on this map is complicated and broken down into a series of ranges that knit together. The reason for this is to make it possible to build it and for ease of reference. The dark green areas surrounded by a blue line are where the range is fragmented. There is also another map further down the page, which is slightly different. This is not unusual as it changes and our knowledge of the range is not complete.
The green area in the map below represents a fragmented jaguar population – red=distribution. Green=fragmented.
View Jaguar Range 2009 in a larger map
See base of page for photo licensing. Photo above by Prosper973
- Myths and Legends
- Range and Habitat
- Ecology and Behavior
- Threats and Conservation
- Visitors’ Submissions
The scientific name is Panthera onca (Linnaeus 1758 – Linnaeus was a well known Swedish zoologist who saw no..”difference between man and simian that [follows] from the principles of Natural History” – I agree). This is the largest felid (the carnivorous mammals of the family Felidae, which includes domestic cats and wildcats) in the Americas (the continents of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions). Morphologically (the form and structure of an organism) the jaguar is similar to the leopard, which can confuse. Indeed the two are closely related members of the genus Panthera. The difference is that the jaguar is heavier and more powerful than the leopard. While the leopard is lithe and graceful, the jaguar is stocky and muscular with shorter legs. There is also a difference in the coat pattern. The spots of a jaguar are generally larger (and, therefore, there are less of them) than for the leopard. The jaguar’s head is large and it has a more powerful bite than the other big cats.
Jaguars vary widely in size depending on the region where they are found. This is believed to be due to the availability of prey. The jaguar can be quite small (for a “big cat”). For example, 56 kg (see below) is 123 lbs or about 8.8 stones, the weight of a light women. To compare the jaguar with other wildcats please click on this link.
|56 kg (male)||Central America|
|42 kg (female)||Central America|
|102 kg (male)||Pantanal – southern Brazil|
|72 kg (female)||Pantanal – Brazil|
|104 kg (male||Venezuela|
|67 kg (female)||Venezuela|
|84 kg (male). Paul Smith Ph.D (FCF mag 5-2010) says that the largest variation in size occurs in the Amazon basin and that they may weight up to 350 pounds (158 kg)||Amazon|
|43 and 63 kg (2 females)||Amazon|
|src: Wild Cats of the World|
There is an, almost, 100% weight difference from one region to another. Average jaguar weights are therefore unworkable. Perhaps, in part, because of the wide range in size, eight subspecies have been recognized but genetically and morphologically, subspecies are not supported (although Pocock’s subspecies divisions are still regularly listed in general descriptions of the cat – www.jaguarssp.org). The biggest differences between the appearance of jaguars is found when they inhabit areas that are the furthest apart in terms of latitude (src: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ – “Red List”).
The jaguar is the third largest wildcat after the tiger and lion. The coat is magnificent as is usual for the wildcats, particularly the big cats. The body is covered in rosettes (a term used in the cat fancy too), which are irregularly shaped hollow centred spots or blotches with, usually, a black dot in the centre. They are set against a ground colour that is between pale yellow and tawny.
The underbelly, throat and inside the legs are white and are also covered with rosettes. The tail is banded over the half towards its tip and there are spots at the body end. The ears are small and rounded with a faint spot on the ear flap (this spot is common to many wildcats). Melanistic jaguars (black – see photo) still have markings but they are faint. Black jaguars are not a separate species although this was thought to be the case at one time. The jaguar’s coat varies widely in pattern and ground colour.
In addition to the name jaguar, it is known as “el tigre” (the tiger) in much of South America. The name “jaguar” was originally, “yaguará” (meaning wild beast that overcomes its prey in a bound – src: Wildcats of the World).
Paul Smith Ph.D, writing in the FCF magzine of March/April 2010, says that there are four existing (at 2010) subspecies of jaguar wild cat: West Mexico (P.o.hernandesii), Southern Arizona to Sonora, Mexico (P.o.arizonesis), Texas to south east Mexico (P.o.veracrusis) and Yucatan, Belize and Guatemela (P.o.goldmani). Although my research using the best sources indicates that there are no jaguars left in the USA (Arizona and Texas as referred to by Paul Smith). Update: there may be some vagrant jaguars in southern Arizona and possibly New Mexico (2012) where it is proposed that there could be a series of reserves covering over 800,000 acres.
The jaguar wild cat has played an important role in the culture of the peoples in the countries that they share. There are examples of ancient art depicting the jaguar. For example, the Olmec people of Southern Mexico some 2000 years ago built pavement mosaics of a jaguar god and carved large jaguar heads.
In South America the jaguar is associated with thunder, lightening and rain and was thought by the Aztecs to control these elements (src: www1.american.edu). This may originate from the yellow colour of the jaguar, representing the sun and the voice representing thunder. Thunder is considered to be the voice of the sun in the Tukano Indian myth.
As the jaguar wild cat is also considered to be the master of animals (this translates, it seems to being the top predator), there is a tendency to worship it, revere it and to try and be it as it is associated with power, strength and success. Olmec and Chavin art shows part jaguar part human figures. Jaguars are incorporated into pottery by the Mochina people of Peru. Ancient Peruvians sacrificed jaguar cubs. The symbolic art was made to indicates social status and to improve the chances of successful hunting. There is the usual and strange dichotomy between worshipping the jaguar and killing it. It probably originates in an attempt to possess the jaguar’s powers and killing the jaguar and wearing body parts etc. is thought to achieve this.
On ceremonial occasions, shamans (shamans are intermediaries between the human and spirit worlds and it is believed by some that they can treat illness and enter supernatural realms to provide answers) when asking permission of the jaguar to hunt and with the intention of taking on the wildcat’s powers, would become human/jaguar and his soul would become a jaguar by:
- entering into a trace with the help of narcotics
- wearing jaguar skins, teeth and claws
- painting themselves in jaguar colour and patterns
- mimicking jaguar movements and voice
The shaman would take on the jaguar’s powers and behave like a cat eating raw meat etc. In Brazil it was, apparently, believed that the fat of the jaguar would give them courage and if rubbed on themselves it would provide protection (src: Wikipedia).
Before building this page, I had created two pages on jaguar distribution (range) and habitat focusing through photographs on the kind of landscape that suited this wild cat. You can see these pages here:
However, if you would like to stay on this page I discuss these matters here in overview. The range of the jaguar wild cat is indicated on the map below, which was made before the Google map above and it is apparent that the exact range is either shrinking or is not known with great accuracy, which is what I would expect as reasonable. The Google map has the potential for being the most accurate anywhere because of the detail that can be obtained.
Based on Red List information, I have added to this map (blue areas and notes) , which is by Denniss and Rosarinagazo and published under Wikimedia® creative commons license = Attribution-ShareAlike License.
The most important information in this section is that the jaguar wild cat has been eliminated from large parts of its previous very wide range. The red section above tells this story and the blue section loss refers to more recent history.
The jaguar is native to these countries: Argentina; Belize; Bolivia; Brazil; Colombia; Costa Rica; Ecuador; French Guiana; Guatemala; Guyana; Honduras; Mexico; Nicaragua; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Suriname; United States; Venezuela and extinct in these regions: El Salvador; Uruguay. It no longer occurs in much of Argentina and is almost extinct in Paraguay.
The history of this cat’s presence in North America is sad. It could be summarised as follows:
|Many years ago, pre-Columbus.||Jaguar’s range extended from Oregon to Pennsylvania|
|1860||Last California jaguar killed at Pam Springs|
|Until 20th century||Jaguars occupied Arizona, Texas, New Mexico.|
|1920||Jaguar wild cat seen northwest of Tucson, Arizona.|
|1946||One shot in Texas|
|1949||One shot in Arizona|
|1971||Jaguar wild cat captured in Arizona|
|1986||One reportedly shot in Arizona|
|1996||Male jaguar sighted in south eastern Arizona.|
|2004||Officials photographed the above cat in southern Arizona|
|2005, Feb 25th||A 118 lb (53 kg) well known, Jaguar (named “Macho B”) was caught, radio-collared & released southwest of Tucson, Arizona.|
|2009, March 2nd||Macho B euthanized suffering from kidney failure in Arizona.|
To give an example of the habitat here is a picture of the Pantanal, a very large wetland area in Brazil:
The jaguar likes water courses and is flexible in its choice of habit, being found:
- in, preferred, dense tropical forest
- in favoured gallery forest and forest patches
- in subtropical habitats
- at 3,800 metres above sea level in Costa Rica
- at 2,100 metres above sea level in Peru
- in scrub and swampy grasslands
- in montane (of, growing in, or inhabiting mountain areas – thefreedictionary.com) forest
- in lowland evergreen forest
- in dry deciduous (shedding or losing foliage at the end of the growing season –thefreedictionary.com) forest and in
- mangrove swamps
The jaguar wild cat is a very able swimmer and spends time in the water to remain cool. Their preference for water courses probably leads them to follow rivers when travelling large distances. This wild cat moves and hunts on the ground and is a capable climber. Cats are often crepuscular. The jaguar, however, seems to vary its activity to suit the availability of prey, which covers a wide variety and to avoid human activity (nocturnal).
|Time of Activity||Area|
|Day and night||Peru and Brazil|
|Nocturnal primarily||Mexico, Belize, Venezuela|
As to prey the jaguar is opportunistic and has a wide taste (85+ prey species). Prey ranges from turtle eggs, via armadillos to 1000 lb cattle. The average weight of prey is 16.6 kg. Some examples:
|Prey||Area – Place|
|Capybaras, spectacled caimans, freshwater turtles, collared peccaries, deer and cattle||Flooded grassland of Venezuela|
|Cattle, white-lipped peccaries, capybaras||Pantanal, Brazil|
|Collared peccaries (see picture below) , agoutis, large turtles||Manu National Park, Peru|
|Sloths, iguanas||Tropical forest of La Selva, Costa Rica|
|White tailed deer – see picture below (54% of prey)||Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve, Jalisco, Mexico.|
Prey: The jaguar wild cat kills prey through:
- a throat bite
- a neck bite
- a bite through the prey’s skull between the ears and horns (evidence of its very powerful bite) or to the back of the head, or through each ear (capybaras). Jaguars are able to bite into the carapace of a large turtle. This way of killing prey can lead to worn and chipped canine teeth, unsurprisingly.
In respect of fish we are not sure how they fish or perhaps the jaguar uses all of these methods:
- jaguar wades in, drips saliva into the water attracting fish, which the jaguar scoops out onto the bank
- jaguar catches fruit fish by tapping the water with its tail simulating falling fruit, attracting the fish, which the jaguar then scoops out
- catches fish in shallow, dried up pools
Large kills are dragged into dense cover sometimes carrying and dragging the prey over considerable distances of up to a mile. Although the average drag distance is 87 metres in Brazil (
for the capybara), there are stories of feats of strength and endurance, such as:
- a female jaguar weighing 41 kg dragged prey weighing 180 kg over 200 metres of steep and rocky terrain.
- a jaguar dragging a dead cow into the Apure River and swam 800 metres across the river with the cow in tow.
Jaguars spend an average of 2.5 days near their killed prey and at a distance of no more than 200 metres. In captivity jaguar wild cats eat about 1.4 kg of meat a day. Studies indicate, for example, that jaguars and pumas in one area (Manu National Park) killed about 23-29% of the deer population per year. As to livestock being taken by this wild cat, this depends, as expected on:
- the level of livestock management (protection) by farmers and
- the degree of prey predation by people forcing the jaguar to look for alternatives. See also jaguar food chain.
The social organisation of the jaguar wild cat is like other large felids. It is based on a land tenure system. When ranges overlap same sex cats try to avoid each other by not using the area at the same time. Occupancy of an area of land is communicated to other jaguars through various methods:
- by roaring (remember the thunder myth above). See Tiger Roar for information on this sound.
- by urine spraying (see Male Cat Spraying for details in respect of domestic cats)
- by scrapes and claw marks
- by depositing faeces in significant locations
Marking has been noted to intensify where male territory overlaps and/or there is social flux (movements) when areas become contested and land tenure is destabilised. Here is some information about home ranges:
|Area of Home Range||Details|
|Southern Pantanal, Brazil. Severe flooding causing predators being concentrated on high ground||4 female jaguar wild cats had varying home ranges between 97 and 168 km². The ranges overlapped a lot. The ranges varied with the seasons; 4-5 times smaller in wet season for both sexes than in the dry season.|
|Acurizal Ranch, western Pantanal. Less flooding than above||Female ranges relatively small. Mother and daughter had same range size at 38 km² overlapping with another female with a range of 25 km². Adult male range covered 90 km² & overlapped both female ranges.|
|Venezuelan Ilanos||Adult male jaguar wild cat overlapped the ranges of 2 adult females (at least). In the dry season one female had a range of 80 kgÂ² decreasing to 51 km² in the wet season, while the other had a range of 53 km² in the wet season.|
|Subtropical forest habitat||Average home range of males was 110 km², while an adult female range was 70 km².|
|Cockscomb Basin, Belize (a reserve)||Male ranges were between 28 to 40 km² with substantial overlap. 2 female ranges were estimated at 10 km² and both female ranges were overlapped by the male ranges.|
Jaguar densities (the number of wild cats in a certain area) has been found to be as follows:
|Density per 100 km²||Area or Place|
|3.2 to 4||Brazil|
|1.7 to 3.3||Mexico|
|6 to 8||Belize|
|src: Wild Cats of the World published 2002|
Here is a little page on jaguar reproductive behavior taken from a news item.
Update: a page on jaguar sounds. There are some audio files to listen to.
The roar may serve to bring female and male together to mate (see Male Cheetah Stutter Bark). Females have been observed to be accompanied by more than one male. During the beginning of estrus (the periodic state that immediately precedes ovulation and during which the female is most receptive to mating, also called “heat”), the female is restless and paces. She rubs and vocalises. Copulation may happen up to 100 times in one day. Inter-estrous periods are 22-25 days and estrus lasts from 6-17 days. Gestation is about 100 days and the usual litter is 2 cubs. Births take place in a secluded spot. Thereafter the timescale is as follows:
|First 10-11 weeks||Dependent on mother’s milk|
|Up to 5-6 months||May continue to suckle|
|2 months old||Cubs accompany mother|
|2 years of age||Males may be 50% heavier than sisters|
|About 15-18 months old||Offspring are travelling independently and making own kills|
|About 2 years of age||Offspring is independent|
|16-20 months of age||Dispersal to own range takes place|
|2-2.5 years of age||Females are sexual mature|
|Approx. but variable, 3-4 year old (believed)||Males are sexually mature|
As to longevity, in the the wild, the jaguar wild cat lives to a maximum of about 11 years (Belize). In captivity the story is very different being 20 years – a known maximum is 32 years. See also jaguar cubs.
The jaguar wild cat is assessed as Near Threatened:
Near Threatened (NT) means: “may be considered threatened with extinction in the near future, although it does not currently qualify for the threatened status. As such the IUCN notes the importance of re-evaluating Near Threatened taxa often or at appropriate intervals.” (src: Wikipedia)
The jaguar population is decreasing. The Red List does not quote actual population figures of estimates of these figures. The book, Wild Cats of World quoted the following estimates (the book was published 2002 so the figures will be lower today – June 2009):
|Population Estimate||Area – Country|
|2,500 – 3,500 (optimistic)||Venezuela|
|1,000 to 1,500 or 3,500 depending on the source||Brazilian Pantanal|
|500 – 800||Peten of Guatemala|
|Extinct||Chile, El Salvador, Uruguay|
|Almost extinct (2002)||Argentina, Costa Rica, Panama|
The main threats are:
- human expansion
- the jaguar occupies a fraction of its original range due to high levels of deforestation for timber, agriculture and settlement and fragmentation of forest habitat. Fragmentation isolates jaguar wild cat populations making them more vulnerable to persecution by people
- jaguars are shot on sight despite being legally protected
- prey depletion
- treated as a source of food
- treated as pests by ranchers and shot despite poor and laissez faire management of livestock. This is compounded by ranchers injuring jaguars who are then obliged to prey on cattle (easy source of food) as they are unable to do otherwise.
- despite being listed in CITES Appendix I, which means: “….species that are the most endangered among CITES-listed animals and plants. They are threatened with extinction and CITES prohibits international trade in specimens of these species except when the purpose of the import is not commercial..” – (src: CITES), the jaguar wild cat is still poached for body parts as there is still a demand for paws, teeth and other body parts.
This wild cat is protected by prohibitions on hunting (but see above – lack of enforcement) in: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, United States, and Venezuela. There are restrictions on hunting in these countries: Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Per. Better livestock management is being addressed apparently. There is an ambitious plan to preserve a north to south habitat corridor throughout the entire range. There are national parks and reserves such as the ManÃº National Park in Peru and the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve in Mexico.
One of the great problems is a lack of commitment to enforce legislation protecting the jaguar and coherent management and planning. All the jaguar wild cat problems are human generated.
Although I don’t wish to criticise the person in this video, it tells us something about our relationship with the wildcats. We don’t seem to be able to live in harmony with them in the wild.
***Please scroll down to see the submissions***
What Other Visitors Have Said
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page…
Mexican Jaguar Scared Both of Us
Jaguar Reproductive Behaviour
Jaguar wild cat – all photos – these are published under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs creative commons License — this site is for charitable purposes in funding cat rescue. The picture of the jaguar logo at the top of the page is by blueraine_tigerseye – photo of jaguar portrait towards bottom of page: by Thorsten Becker.
Jaguar wild cat – Sources: I am greatly indebted to the fine book, Wild Cats of the World by Mel Sunquist and Fiona Sunquist. Other sources: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, WikipediaÂ®, the sources as embedded in the text, my website PoC, various other websites for minor details and verification.