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Jaguars: The Largest of South America's Big Cats

Updated on July 23, 2012

According to legend, the jaguar acquired its spots by dobbing mud on its fur, which then became permanent.

Throughout all time jaguars have been admired, revered and feared by people and prey, alike. Jaguars, the largest of South America's big cats were given the name by Native Americans long ago. It means, "the killer who takes is prey in a single bound."


Jaguars vs Leopards

Scientists call it Panthera Onca. Jaguars look like leopards at first sight. However, upon closer examination it becomes evident that the jaguar is a stocky, more muscular cat. It's spots are more pronounced and each one has a small central point. Jaguars can also be black, although the coat pattern still remains somewhat visible to the naked eye. If a jaguar is black then it is said to be of the melanistic variety. Melanistic means that dark colored pigmentation is present in the skin. In the image below is a leopard, skinnier and smaller than the jaguar.


Their Diet

Jaguars are carnivorous like all other big cats. Their regular diet may consist of small rodents, sheep, deer and other herbivores. They have powerful jaws, in fact the most powerful among big cats. This makes them extremely successful when hunting even the bigger prey such as horses or cattle. They also have a fondness for water. Jaguars are expert swimmers and love to fish.


Their Habitat

Jaguars typically inhabit dense forest areas. They can be found in Northern Mexico, Central America, Northern and Central South America and the southern and southwestern states of the United States.


Their Territory

Jaguars are reclusive animals. A sighting is extremely rare. They live alone and are lone hunters. The only sharing of the territory comes with mating season, which takes place year around. While a male may share his territory, which is 19-53 square miles with a harem of females, he will defend his home with veracity against other males to ensure that no other male will mate with his ladies.


Their Family

A female's jaguar has a smaller base range than a male. Her territory is only 10-37 square miles. Females may bear several litters of kittens during a year's time. A normal pregnancy for a female jaguar last from between 90 to 110 days. A litter consists of 1 to 4 kittens. The kittens will remain with mom for 1 to 1 1/2 years before becoming independent.


Their Survival

But the survival of jaguars is becoming more threatened everyday. They are a poacher’s prize for their fur. Their habitat is quickly being depleted due to the human demand for the land and its resources. Hunters are pursuing their normal prey. And the list goes on.

The jaguar has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), The "Near Threatened" by the IUCN Red List, and in response jaguars have been included of the Appendix I of CITES. This action has made it illegal for jaguars to be included in any form of commercial trade.


Their Only Hope

But there is still hope to save this beautiful animal. Wildlife organizations, the world over are taking a stand and taking action and Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary has been exemplary in this cause. Cockscomb came to be due to collaborative efforts of individuals, national and international wildlife organizations. As of 1986, it is the only jaguar reserve in the world, located on 150 square miles in southern Belize. It's incredible beauty and Mayan culture lie at the base of the Cockscomb Mountain Range.


Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve

Cockscomb also features many other species of wildlife as well. There are hiking trails, the Chucil Baluum Mayan Ceremonial site, lush tropical forests, creeks and streams and a plethora of other wildlife to see.


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    • profile image

      teandre 4 years ago

      yea why would u do that to a harmless creature

    • SAFlights profile image

      SAFlights 6 years ago from South Africa

      Thank you Phoebe and Susan. Hope more people realize how special these big cats are and the important role of the Jaguar Preserve in keeping these animals alive.

    • Susan D Tyndall profile image

      Dianne Tyndall 6 years ago from Sanderson, Texas

      Good hub with beautiful photo's and a good video. Voted up and useful.

    • profile image

      Phoebe Pike 6 years ago

      They really are beautiful animals. It's a shame their numbers have dwindled so much.