Description: Jaguars are the only large spotted cats native to the New World. They have a yellow- brownish base color that becomes lighter on the throat and stomach. Small single spots can be found on the head and neck, with rosettes (open ring design) on the sides and flank. Jaguars can be distinguished from leopards by the small irregular shapes inside the larger rosettes, larger and stockier bodies, shorter legs and shorter tails. The somewhat large head has bright greenish- yellow eyes and rounded ears that are white inside. Jaguars found in dense forested areas are somewhat darker in color than those in more open areas. Being completely black is common for Jaguars (melanistic); the heavily pigmented black appears solid but the dark rosettes can be seen if closely examined in good light.
Size: Jaguars (largest cats in the Americas) are the third largest cats in the world, ranking behind tigers and African lions. They vary in size, with those living in rainforests being smaller than those from open habitats. Males are generally larger than females. Females range between 100-200 pounds (45-91 kg) and males range between 125-250 pounds (57-113 kg). The tail is 18-30 inches (46-76 cm) long. Jaguars have been recorded at more than 300 pounds (136 kg). They reach a length of four to six feet (1.2-1.8 m) and height of 2.5-3 feet (0.7-0.9 m). Jaguars are large and heavy, built for power rather than speed.
Behavior: Like most felines, Jaguars are solitary animals. Males and females meet only for mating. They are thought to be primarily nocturnal but are also active during the day. If prey is scarce or small, Jaguars may spend more than 60% of each 24-hour period hunting for food. Jaguars are rapid runners, but tire quickly. They are accomplished tree climbers and excellent swimmers, preferring areas with a fresh water supply. Jaguars are known to many South American Indians as “yagyara,” meaning “a beast that kills its prey with one bound.”
Diet: It has been reported that Jaguars prey on 80 or more species of animals, feeding primarily on medium to large-sized prey such as pacas, deer, peccaries and agoutis. They also eat fish, frogs, turtles, and small alligators that they capture in the water.
Senses: Vision is particularly good at night. Hearing is used to detect prey animals or potential danger.
Communication: Jaguars rarely roar, however, a deep coarse cry can be heard, particularly during mating. Their variety of vocalizations, including mews, grunts and a pulsed series of hoarse grunts or coughs, can be heard for some distance.
Reproduction: Female Jaguars reach sexual maturity at approximately three years of age and males at three to four years. Mating is believed to occur during December and January. Gestation is about 100 days and the mother gives birth to one to four cubs in April or May each year. It is now believed that the mating season may occur at such time so cubs are born during the rainy season when prey is more abundant. Cubs, weighing between 1.6 – 2.5 pounds (0.7 -1.1 kg), are covered with woolly fur, heavily spotted and eyes are closed. They learn to hunt around six months of age and stay with their mother for up to 1 1⁄2 – 2 years.
Habitat/range: Jaguars live in a variety of habitats — dense rainforests, scrub woodlands, shoreline forests, grasslands and open country, but rarely in areas above 8,000 feet (2438 m). Historically, Jaguars ranged from the southern U.S. (Texas, Arizona and New Mexico) through Mexico, Central America and to Venezuela, the Guianas, Brazil and northern Argentina. Their current range is in an area from central Mexico, Central America to South America as far south as northern Argentina.
Status: Humans are the main threat to Jaguar populations, either killing for their pelt, sport, etc., or to protect their livestock. Habitat destruction is also a concern.
CITES – Appendix 1; IUCN Near Threatened / IUCN Red List of Threatened Species; USFWS Endangered; Included in AZA Species Survival Plan® (SSP). This program cooperatively manages specific, and typically threatened or endangered populations.