Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Jaguar

General Information

Scientific name - Panthera onca

Distribution - Central & South America

Lifespan - 11-16 years

Physical appearance - Yellowish-brown coat with spotted black rosettes

Litter - 2-4 cubs

Behavior – Solitary

Diet - a wide range of arboreal, terrestrial & aquatic animals

Habit - Crepuscular

Size - Body length (including tail) 1.6m - 2.6m
        Shoulder height 0.6m - 0.8m

Weight - 35 -130kg. Females usually one third smaller than males

Interesting Facts

  • n  The jaguar is the third largest big cat in the world. It is the largest in the Americas.
  • n  The jaguar is one of the four big cats that roars the others being the tiger, lion, & the leopard.
  • n  The name jaguar is derived from the Native American word yaguar, which means "he who kills with one leap."
  • n  The jaguar loves water. It attracts fish by swinging its tail underwater.
  • It is also an adept climber & so it is at home in trees, water as well as on ground.
  • n  The lifespan of a jaguar in the wild is 11 to 16 years while that of a jaguar in captivity is about 22 years.
  • n  The jaguar is worshipped as a god by cultures including the Aztecs and the Maya.
  • Jaguars are usually yellow-brown with spotted black rosettes. The side & back shows a circle of spots surrounding a central spot. The head, legs & underside show solid black spots.
  • n   Leopards & jaguars are often confused. The jaguar can be distinguished          by black spots within the larger rosette markings. The jaguar has a shorter tail & is stronger, more muscular, more stockily built with stocky forelimbs & a smaller, bulkier & more rounded head.
  • n   Melanistic/black jaguars are also found. They are sometimes confused with black panthers. Black panthers are actually black leopards.


n  The jaguar is found mainly in Central & South America.                              

n   Range includes Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela and south western United States.

n  Highest population density is on lowland rainforests of the Amazon basin.

n  The jaguar population is especially abundant in the Pantanal region of Brazil & Chaco region of northern Paraguay.

n  Current Wild population – approx. 15000


n  The jaguar’s habitat is tropical areas.

n  It includes tropical forests, Savanna, scrub, desert, swamps; but near water. Jaguars rarely venture more than 0.5 km from water.For example, the Amazon River Basin and the wetland area of Pantanal in Brazil are home to important populations of jaguars.

n  Other important jaguar habitats include Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize, the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala and Mexico’s Calakmul Biosphere Reserve.




Kingdom – Animalia

Phylum - Chordata

Class – Mammalia

Subclass – Theria

Order – Carnivora

Family – Felidae

Genus – Panthera

Species – onca


There are nine subspecies of Jaguar:

Panthera onca onca - Amazon Rainforest
Panthera onca arizonensis - Mexico
Panthera onca centralis - Central America
Panthera onca goldmani - Mexico, Belize
Panthera onca hemandesii - Mexico
Panthera onca palustris - Southern Brazil
Panthera onca paraguensis – Paraguay
Panthera onca peruvianus - Peru, Ecuador
Panthera onca veracrucis – Texas


Hunting Behavior

n  The jaguar is solitary. Jaguars come together only for breeding.

n  The jaguar is mainly crepuscular (active at dawn & dusk). But its activity may vary according to local prey habits. For example, it is primarily nocturnal in Belize and diurnal in Pantanal.

n  The jaguar is a stalk-and-ambush rather than a chase predator.

n  The jaguar is very strong. Prey is killed with a powerful bite to the head, neck or throat. Jaguars are the only big cats to regularly kill by piercing the skull. They may drag the carcass to a secluded area to feed.

n  Jaguars are more active during the dry season.

n  They have home territories that can be as small as 10 or as large as 180 sq km.

n  The jaguars mark their territory by leaving their scrape marks and scat behind. And this gives them a “remarkable ability to know where their neighbours are” and helps them avoid encroaching on each other’s territory.


Feeding behavior & Diet

n  The jaguar can choose to feed from about 85 species of arboreal, terrestrial & aquatic animals.

n  Like all cats, the jaguar is an obligate carnivore, feeding only on meat. It is an opportunistic hunter.

n  The jaguar prefers large prey and will take deer, capybara, tapirs, peccaries, armadillos, paca, tamandua, dogs, foxes and sometimes even anacondas and cayman. However, the cat will eat any small species that can be caught, including frogs, birds, mice, fish, sloths, monkeys and turtles.


Reproductive Behavior

n  Females sexually mature at 2-3 years & males at 3-4 years.

n  Estrus lasts from 6-17 days.

n  Copulation frequency may be as much as 100 times a day.

n  Induced ovulators.

n  Gestation averages 100 days.

n  Cubs are more likely to be born in wet seasons, corresponding to increase in prey.

n  Cubs begin to learn hunting at 6 months.They remain with the mother till 2 years of age.


Deficiencies & Diseases

Recent declines in free-ranging wildlife populations have highlighted the potentially devastating effect of infectious disease. Diseases are an increasing threat to wild felids due to habitat restriction and encroachment from domestic animals. Domestic animals can directly or indirectly enter in contact with natural felid populations, potentially disseminating pathogens and altering disease patterns.

Although habitat fragmentation and hunting are considered the main threats to wildlife, diseases are an increasing concern for many of the most endangered

The transmission of infectious diseases between domestic and free-ranging carnivores is becoming increasingly common. Jaguars and domestic animals occupying the same or adjacent environments can share much of the same pathogens. The most important factor probably is the contact between domestic and wild carnivore populations at the interface of their ranges, favoring
the dissemination of infectious agents. Livestock predation represents an  additional route of transmission of pathogens.

Wild animals dying of disease are rarely found; this is especially true for large carnivores like jaguars, which occur at low densities and have secretive behavior patterns. Thus, it is not just difficult to find appropriate biological material for epidemiological studies but also to justify to the authorities the importance of these studies or intervention in distressed wildlife populations.

Some of the nutritional deficiencies and diseases known to affect jaguars are as follows.

Metabolic Bone disorders: Metabolic bone disease is a general term for conditions that develop as a result of prolonged deficiencies of calcium, vitamin D, or an improper ratio of calcium to phosphorous in the diet. Many names are given to this syndrome, such as osteoporosis, rickets, cage paralysis, paper bone disease, nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism.


Intestinal Blockage due to foreign body ingestion

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV): A lentivirus causing immunodeficiency                     as well as nervous signs.



Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV): Has been found in jaguars in Brazil.

Feline Corona virus (FcoV): This virus causes Feline Infectious Peritonitis, a fatal immune mediated systemic disease. Found in captive jaguars in Brazil. Most of the affected jaguars do not develop FIP but are sources of infection.

Feline Parvo Virus: May be asymptomatic or cause varying degrees of unspecific clinical signs, gastroenteritis, decreased blood cells.

Feline herpes Virus: Found in captive jaguars in Brazil

Canine Distemper Virus: Has been found in free ranging jaguars in Brazil. Thought to be transmitted by domestic dogs.

Feline Morbillivirus

Zoonotic bacteria : Leptospira, Brucella, Bartonella henselae, Bacillus anthracis

Fungi: Pythium insidiosum

Protozoa: Toxoplasma gondii

Ectoparasites: fleas, lice, ticks, mites

Worms: Spirocerca, Spirometra, Toxocara cati, Toxascaris leonina, Capilaria, Trichuris, Aelurostrongylus abstrusus, Strongyloides spp larvae, Platynosomum fastosum, Giardia, Cystoisospora felis, Eimeria, Toxoplasma-Hammondia oocyst, Sarcocystis sporocyst, Dicrofilaria immitis(heartworm). Most of these parasites cause symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, anemia or rough fur coat.

Non infectious diseases most commonly causing morbidity include those of the dental, gastrointestinal, integumentary and musculoskeletal systems.

  • Gingivitis
  • Periodontitis
  • Dental fractures (especially canines) of free ranging jaguars due to trauma
  • Claw disorders (due to excessive wear or failure to wear)
  • Neoplasia
  • Degenerative spinal disorders
  • Alopecia (due to ectoparasites, excess licking or nutritional deficiency)

Conservation Status

    The IUCN Red List has the jaguar as Near Threatened. The main reasons for decline in the jaguar population are –

n  Habitat destruction & fragmentation

n  Rancher-jaguar conflict leading to revenge killing by livestock owners

n  Poaching for the fur trade

n  Loss of wild prey

n  Exposure to agrochemicals which may affect fertility of remaining wild populations

  Source : Internet