Jaguars:   Mighty  Predators

(C)  A. Lopez


Of all the great cats, Jaguars have been the most elusive in the wild. They are animals of forested or densely vegetated habitats.  They may venture out into open grasslands to find prey, but will then retreat to the brush or forest.  Its present range includes South-central Mexico, through Central America and into South America as far as Northern Argentina.  Did you know the Jaguar used to live in the US? Sparse but sustaining populations of Jaguars ranged into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and even Southern California well into this century.  The last California Jaguar was killed in Palm Springs in 1860.  Individual Jaguars have been killed in Arizona in 1971, 1980, and in 1986.  Individual Jaguars may still roam from Mexico to Arizona but no confirmed reports existed until recently!  Please see the bottom of page for further details!  Since the early 1970's, the Jaguar has been on the list of totally protected animals in most South American countries.  In Belize, the world's only park dedicated to the preservation of the Jaguar opened in 1984.  Despite legal protection, Jaguars are still shot.  It would be hard to envision a world without the Jaguar.  The Tucano Indians of the Amazon still believe that the roar of the Jaguar is the roar of the thunder, which announces approaching rains. The Jaguar is also thought to be the god of darkness and its spots represent the stars in the heavens.  It has been said that when the Jaguar no longer walks the forests, there will never be anything like it again on earth.

Jaguars have intrigued and instilled fears in people ever since the 2 coexisted.  These cats were important in the art, architecture, cultures, and rituals of the Olmecs in 1200 BC to the Mayas and to the Aztecs much later.  Archaeologists are still unearthing temples and tombs devoted to Jaguars. Modern museums contain evidence of Jaguar societies, costumes, Jaguar soldiers, etc.    

(C)  A. Lopez

The Jaguar is the ultimate predator, dominant power in the forest, an animal that uses its strength and cunning to overcome other animals.  It masters all dimensions.  It climbs, swims, and roams the densest forests.  Almost no prey is too ambitious a target.  Jaguars have a strong association with wet and waterside habitats.  This is where they often take their prey.  They are one member of the cat family that  truly loves the water!  They also seem to enjoy playing in the water!  They also have very powerful jaws and canine teeth which enable them to kill prey 3 to 4 times its own weight!  Their teeth and jaw muscles are so developed, that they have a bite considered to be the most powerful of any of the big cats relative to their size.  They usually kill by biting through the back of the animal's skull rather then the more common neck or throat bite.  Despite all its strength and power, it  lives mainly on a diet of smaller prey.  They usually hunt in the dawn and dusk hours or on moonlight nights.  They seem to be the most nocturnal of all the big cats.  Their diet includes lizards, snakes, capybara, peccaries, caiman, deer,  monkeys, small rodents, birds, fish, and cattle.  Jaguars also kill land and river turtles too.  They do this by breaking the top of the hard, thick shell with their teeth!  River turtles are so large, that they make one hole on each side of the shell to scoop out the body!  I have even seen in a documentary a jaguar killing a large python that was hundreds of pounds!  They are truly powerful hunters!

(C)  A. Lopez


 The Jaguar has a very stocky build.  They also have a large, rounded head and short, sturdy legs.  The largest Jaguars have been males weighing 300 pounds and females weighing 170.  The largest have come from the Pantanel region of Brazil.  The more average weight for males  is 121.5 pounds and for females, it's 79.5 pounds.  They reach up to six to nine feet including tail.  The Jaguar's  fur ranges from pale gold to a rich rusty red.  It is patterned with a series of dark rosettes that enclose one or two smaller spots. There are all black Jaguars.  I have even seen black Jaguars in a zoo that had a light brown background and very dark spots. These were very beautiful animals!  Albinos or partial albinos are reported to have occurred in Paraguay.  Jaguars can roar, but not purr. Their call has been compared to a single bark of a large dog followed by hoarse, cough like growling.  These vocalizations are important in attracting mates and avoiding direct aggressive contact.  

(C)  A. Lopez


Jaguars are solitary hunters.  The home range of females may be anywhere from 4 to 27 miles and overlap with one or two other females.  Males have a home range anywhere from 11 to 59 miles which may include the ranges of a number of females and those of other males.  Jaguars usually only come together for mating.  One to four young are usually born after a gestation of 93 to 110 days.  They are blind at birth but after six to eight weeks, they are able to accompany their mother. The cubs are half grown at  9 or 10 months.  They remain with her  for about two years.   


Update! Jaguars in Arizona!

In October  2004,  a California graduate student took pictures of  2 male jaguars via a remote motion sensing camera in the Coronado National Forest.  This caused an environmental group to challenge plans for the Tucson Electrical Power Company's transmission lines.  The power company had won approval from the Arizona Corporation Commission in 1998 to run power lines from Nogals to Tucson's Northwest side through the Tunacacori Highlands west of Interstate 19.  The photos suggest that the federally endangered jaguar has established a presence there along the transmission line route.  A draft of an environmental impact survey of the proposed transmission lines states no established critical habitat for threatened or endangered species would be effected.  The reason the graduate student got the photos was because he hits the back country really hard!

This was great news when I heard it!  It means we have our spotted cat back in the US !


There is a website that I am not trying to promote or endorse, but they have take 26 pictures of jaguars (mostly male-the same one? Or not?), by using light sensing cameras.  I think it's very interesting and it does show some proof that at the very least, a few jaguars are using a tiny territory in southern Arizona to extend their hunting and patrolling areas.  They may just be in the area to hunt and then cross the border to their main territory, but at least their presence exists....They are called the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project. 


I am not promoting or endorsing, but it's interesting.........

In early August 2007, the Center of Biological Division filed suit in the Federal District court in Tucson to compel U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a recovery plan and designate critical habitat for endangered jaguars in the U.S.  I haven't heard the results yet.....................


OTHER NAMES KNOWN BY:   El Tigre (Tiger) and Onca


Lumpkin, Susan and Seidensticker, John. 1991. Great Cats Majestic Creatures of the Wild. Rodale Press, Pa. Pg. 34 and pages 116-123.

Kingdom Of Might, Copyright Tom Brakefield. Reprinted with permission of the publisher Voyageur Press Inc., 123 N Second St., Stillwater, MN 55082. Toll free 1-800-888-9653. Ph: 1-651-430-2210.  

Section" Latin America" By Fiona Sunquist. 1987. Kingdom of Cats. National Wildlife Federation, Washington D.C. Pg. 61, 63, 64, 70, and 71.

Sleeper, Barbara. 1995. Wild Cats of the World. Crown Publishers, NY. Pgs 94 to 95.

Bauer, Edwin A. 2003. The Last Big Cats. Voyageur Press, Inc., MN

(C)  A. Lopez


(C)  A. Lopez


(C)  A. Lopez

(C)  A. Lopez

(C)  A. Lopez






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