by William Miller, Robbie Peter, Jennifer Butler, Derrick Gormley, and Thomas MacLean
Physical DescriptionThe jaguar is the largest and most powerful wild cat in the Western Hemispere. The jaguar is larger then the leopard. The jaguar's coat has different colors, but they are usually yellow-brownish with black spots, like leopards. Some jaguars are even white. The jaguar's coat on its side and back is spotted with large black rosettes, each consisting of a circle of spots surrounding a central spot. The spots on its head, legs, and underside are solid black.
An adult male jaguar may be four to seven feet long, excluding the long tail. Its tail is about 45 to 75 centimeters long. The jaguar stands about three feet high at the shoulder, and it weighs up to 300 pounds when full grown. The jaguar has heavily muscled forearms and shoulders that add strength for capturing its prey. It has a massive head, and long thick legs. The jaguar's hindlimbs are longer than its forelimbs to improve jumping. Its forepaws are equipped with long, retractile claws to help grab and hold its prey. The jaguar has a rough tongue that is designed for peeling the skin away from the flesh of its prey, and to peel the flesh away from its prey's bones. The jaguar has loose belly skin which allows the animal to be kicked by its prey with little chance of injury.
HabitatJaguars are found on the American continents; they live in Texas, in the Cerro Colorado Mountains in Arizona, the southern part of California, and New Mexico, in the United States, and are found in rain forests in Central and South America. The largest known population exists in the Amazon rain forests. Black jaguars live in South America. Jaguars are also found in Africa and Asia. Until the 1900s, they also roamed the Yukon, southern United States to Uruguay, and Iceland.
Jaguars prefer wet lowland habitats, swampy savannas or tropical rain forests. Their favorite habitat is in the tropical and subtropical forests. Jaguars also live in forests and grasslands, living near rivers and lakes, in small caves, marshland, and under rock ledges; they live in shrubby areas as well. Jaguars like their homes to have very soft ground. They use materials such as leaves, rotten trees and other soft materials that they may find in the woods or in the rain forest. Jaguars would prefer to live alone, and don't like other animals to come near their den, as it is a territorial area for the jaguar.
BehaviorThe jaguar is the fiercest of the cat family. Its roar is between a cough and a growl. The jaguar is a very good hunter and can attack and kill its prey to eat. It also swims well and wades in water to catch a fish. On land, the jaguar stays hidden in caves or bushes and creeps close to its prey, and then jumps. When herds of prey stop to eat or drink, it climbs trees easily, and hides to pounce on its prey. The jaguar seizes its catch with its muscular forelegs, and kills its prey with a bite to the neck.
Food SupplyThe jaguar feeds on a wide range of terrestrial and aquatic animals; it eats more then 80 different kinds of prey, one of which is cattle (that is one reason why humans kill the jaguar). Jaguars prey as well on sheep, and feed on rodents, peccaries, deer, birds, fish, armadillos, turtles, and crocodiles. In high grass or bushes, jaguars stalk or ambush their prey such as peccaries, capybaras, deer, and tapirs. In the forests, they hide in the trees to spring on birds and monkeys, or capture turtles on the river banks and fish from the water. On the plains, they prey on sheep and cattle. They eat almost any kind of animal including deer, their favorite food, fish, wild pigs, iguanas, turtles, capybaras and other kinds of rodents. Jaguars rarely attack humans.
Life Cycle and YoungIn the tropical part of their range, jaguars seem to mate in any season. In other areas, they mate in the later part of the year. Male and female jaguars live together only during the mating and pregnancy season. After a gestational period of 95 to 110 days, the female gives birth to one to four young cubs; they usually have 2 cubs. New born jaguars weigh between 1 1/2 and 2 pounds (.7 and .9 kilograms). The females reach sexual maturity at the age of 3, the males at 4; both have a lifespan of about 20 years.
The male jaguar will live with the female for a period of four years while the baby or cubs grow up to be healthy and strong. The male will teach the cubs to defend themselves and find their own food and shelter. The female jaguar will feed them their milk so the cubs will keep up their strength and energy. The young will also hunt with their mother during their first two years.
Enemies and EndangermentHumans are the main threat to the jaguar. A jaguar seldom, if ever, attacks humans unless it is cornered. Humans hunt the jaguar for sport, for its spotted hide, and to protect their domestic stock. The jaguar is endangered because it is hunted for its fur, and farmers kill the jaguar because it killed their cattle. Jaguars are reputed to be so destructive of cattle and horses that the larger Mexican ranches retain a 'tiger hunter' to kill them or at least drive them away. Poaching jaguars by hunting is still a problem, as there is a great demand for their coats. Today, there is still poaching, but not nearly as common as before. During the sixties and seventies, around 18,000 jaguars were killed every year for their beautiful coat. Formerly prized furs, such as those from the leopard, cheetah, or jaguar, may no longer be hunted in the countries where they are indigenous, and many other countries forbid their importation. The Federal Endangerment Species Act prohibits the importation and sale of these furs in the United States. In addition, special laws that protect certain North American species are enforced in the United States and in Canada, and wildlife refuges have been set up for the purpose of protecting the jaguar. The jaguar is a beautiful and graceful animal; it needs protection and conservation measures so they don't become extinct.
The number of jaguars has declined over the last 100 years mainly because humans have slashed and burned many of their homelands in Central and South America; new cities are being built, and the forests and grasslands are being cleared. The destruction of the jaguar's habitat from logging and cattle ranching as well as having to compete with humans for food has brought a large decease in its population. One of the problems experienced by the jaguars is when the grasses that help hide them are dying because of smog problems. More jaguars are killed as the demand for their fur increases. In hunting, the jaguar is usually chased by dogs until it runs up a tree or until it is cornered on the ground; then it is shot. The Bororo Indians of Mato Grosso, Brazil hunt them with spears. When a jaguar is cornered on the ground, the hunter gets it to rush him, and then catches it on his spear as it leaps at him.