As with most big cats, despite the jaguar’s wide range its population density is low, with just one jaguar per 25 km2 (9.65 square miles) on average.
The jaguar is the only member of the big cat clan in the New World. Fossil evidence shows that these cats once existed in southern parts of the USA, particularly in what is now Florida. Within their existing range today they come into conflict with ranchers, as they will often prey on cattle. There are also accounts of jaguars attacking people, but they are not confirmed man-eaters. Their status is vulnerable, but they are less threatened now that they are no longer hunted commercially for their fur.
Jaguars prefer to live in areas with plenty of water for at least part of the year, although they will stray on to grasslands and into deserts in search of food. They live alone, taking refuge in secluded spots during the day and stalking prey at night. Despite being expert climbers, they hunt on the ground and drag their kills to hideaways before devouring them.
The jaguar is the only big cat in the Americas. It is smaller in length than the cougar, but much bulkier and heavier. Jaguars are usually a tawny yellow with dark rings, but they can also be black.
Female jaguars defend smaller territories than males, and a male’s territory may overlap those of two or three females. The cats advertise their presence by scenting landmarks with urine or faeces and by scraping marks on tree trunks and rocks. When a female is ready to breed, she will leave her home range and be courted by outside males. Litters usually stay with their mother for two years.
Distribution: Current range extends from Central America down across much of northern South America to the extreme north of Argentina.
Habitat: Forests and swamps.
Weight: 36 – 160 kg (79 – 350 lb).
Length: 155 – 265 cm (60 – 105 in).
Maturity: 3 – 4 years.
Gestation Period: 93 – 105 days.
Breeding: Litters of 1-4 cubs born every 2 or 3 years.
Food: Mammals including peccaries, tapirs and capybaras; also hunts fish, turtles and crocodilians.
Lifespan: 10 – 12 years in the wild; up to 22 years in captivity.
Status: Lower risk.
The tail is barred with black markings, ending in a dark tip. A very distinctive rosette pattern with dark centres is apparent on the body.
Powerful muscles enable these cats to swim, jump and climb without difficulty, as well as run fast.
Strong jaws allow the jaguar to crack the shells of prey such as turtles and tortoises.
Jaguars often hunt near water, leaping down on their prey from an overhanging branch, catching their victims unawares.