Jaguar - Panthera Onca

IUCN Red List status - Near Threatened

The jaguar is the only big cat
(cats of the genus Panthera) that lives in the Americas, and it is also the largest cat in this region. Its home range spans from the south-west US, where some individuals may still exist, to northern parts of Argentina.

Jaguars prefer habitat around water and they are most often found along rivers or rainforest areas with permanent water sources. This big cat species has also been seen in altitudes up to 3,000 metres, but their presence depend on the habitat and also on the prey availability in these areas. The highest density of jaguars can be found in the lowland forest areas of Belize and in the Pantanals in Brazil. The jaguar population is generally measured in density per 100km2, e.g. in parts of Belize there are 7.5-8.8 jaguars per 100km2, while in unprotected areas in Columbia there may be only 2.5 per 100km2.

It is the current understanding that the jaguar is still an abundant species, but their population is decreasing and threats like habitat loss, persecution in retaliation for livestock killing and the declining prey availability is causing concern for this species' survival chances. The IUCN
(International Union for Conservation of Nature) is considering to change the Red List status to Vulnerable if threats can't be contained in the near future.

The habitat is severely impacted by deforestation and has been reduced by over 50% over the last century. Other threats are also related to the growing human population as this does not only lead to more demand for living and agricultural space, but also to competing for prey species.

Prey has been severely reduced, which may impact the jaguar directly
(starving to death) and indirectly. Lacking access to their natural prey sources, jaguars will like any predator species resort to finding food elsewhere, meaning they will kill and eat livestock like cattle. This leads then to human/wildlife conflict as farmers kill the jaguars in retaliation (or in the hope they won't have the problem again if they kill the jaguars).

Jaguars have vanished from many parts of their historical home range and have beome completely extinct in Uruguay and El Salvador.

A threat that has been significantly reduced is hunting for the jaguar's fur. Before 1973 about 18,000 jaguars were killed in this context each year, but through the anti-fur campaign and controls introduced by CITES
(Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) this was decreased to a great extent.

Jaguars are solitary animals, meaning they live on their own unless they are mating or have young ones. The home range of individual jaguars depend generally on prey availability. It could be as small as 10km2 for a female jaguar or 28-40km2 for a male in Belize to up to 1,000km2 in other areas. The territory of a male overlaps with the ones of females and in densely populated areas, even these may overlap.

The jaguar may vary in size, depending on the habitat where they live. Jaguars living in more open areas like in the Pantanals are generally larger than individuals who live in forest areas. In spite of this and also slight variation in coloration
(jaguars living in forest areas may be darker in colour) there is only one jaguar subspecies based on genetical and also morphological information.

Jaguars are known to have the most powerful jaw bite of all big cat species. They are able to pierce the skull or shell of prey species with just one bite. This big cat species has a wide variety of prey, but prefer larger ungulates and have also been observed killing and feeding of crocodiles.

The life expectancy of jaguars is up to around 12 years in the wild.

The information about jaguars was sourced from the IUCN, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Panthera web pages.