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Juliette Cooley: Jaguar
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Jaguar- Juliette Cooley

The Jaguar came into existence about 11 million years ago. The Jaguar is commonly known for its fierce hunting capability and its beautiful rosette pattern, but there are many facts about these wild cats that most people do not know about. For example, many people think that Jaguars are an endangered species, when they are actually a threatened species. Scientists do predict that with the effects of our actions they will not be around for much longer. There is no need to fret right away because we do have plans on how to conserve these animals. In order to do this, we have to study every aspect of the Jaguar including its habitat, physical appearance, adaptations, the reasons why it is a threatened species, and what their value to humans is.


The Jaguar, otherwise known as Panthera onca is one out of the four big cats found on Earth (Naik 2011, 1). Out of those four it is the third largest feline in the entire Western Hemisphere (Anonymous 2012b, 1). “The name Jaguar is said to come from the Native American word yaguar which means; he who kills with one leap.” The Jaguars kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and scientific name are: Animalia, Chordate, Mammalian, Carnivore, Felidae, Panther, and Panthera onca (Anonymous 2012, 2, 22).  According to DNA testing the Jaguar is believed to be very closely related to the Leopard. If they were, they would have branched off from each other about 6 million year ago. This does not fully help piece together the information because the first Jaguar fossil dates back to about 11 million years ago making it impossible for them to branch off at 6 million years. There still is not enough information to conclude what animal the Jaguars have evolved from (Anonymous 2009, 1-2).

The Jaguar's native home tends to be in the Western Hemisphere of the world, but it can “span across the 
tropical rainforests of South America as well as in the southern part of the United States and Mexico” (Naik 2012,2) (Anonymous 2012, 5). Although Jaguars are found all throughout the world, the largest populations of Jaguars are commonly found in the Amazon rain forest (Miller 2012, 6). Jaguars prefer to live in areas that are very thick, dense and moist. This type of habitat makes it easier for them to hunt because the heavy canopy of the forests provides them with plenty of concealment to be able to catch their prey successfully (Anonymous 2012, 6). Not all Jaguars are able to live in this kind of area though, they can also be found in grasslands, mountain ranges, forests, near lakes and rivers, swamps and shrubby areas too (Miller 2012, 7). Jaguars, like most animals, do not like other animals to intrude into their homeland (Miller 2012, 8). To prevent this, Jaguars mark their territory by leaving scrapes and scat marks behind to warn others not to come near their territory (Gray 2007, 7).

A full grown Jaguar can range from four to seven feet long and about 3 feet tall. These measurements are not including their tail which can range anywhere from 45-75 centimeters long. As an adult, they weigh about 300-350 pounds (Miller 2012, 2) (Anonymous 2012, 23). Jaguars mostly have a tan or a dark yellow fur color, but just like with us humans, genetic mutations can occur among jaguars too. A mutation called melanism can take place causing their fur to be all black (Anonymous 2012, 24) (Anonymous 2009,6) (Anonymous 2012, 16). The Jaguar’s fur also has a black spot pattern known as rosettes as well as darker spots inside of the rosettes (Miller 2012, 1). The Jaguars pattern is very unique, just like our fingerprints are unique to us. Notonly is its pattern beautiful and unique, it also provides a great amount of camouflage for the animal in its surroundings (Anonymous 2012, 4). “The jaguar has heavily muscled forearms and shoulders that add strength for capturing its prey”. The Jaguar has long and thick legs; its hind limbs are longer than its fore limbs and because of this, it can jump to higher and farther lengths (Miller 2012, 3). The Jaguar also has great speed and agility; it can travel at a top speed of 50 miles per hour (Anonymous 2012, 23). To add on to its power, the Jaguar has a mighty roar and a strong bite force (Anonymous 2012, 15).

“The jaguar is a very adaptable animal” (Gray 2007, 4). The Jaguar’s adaptations can occur in three categories: behavioral, structural and physical. A behavioral adaptation of the Jaguar is their capability to swim.  This adaptation particularly comes in handy in their native habitat which usually contains much water. This adaptation also helps when it comes to hunting. Jaguars have more of a variety being able to hunt land and sea animals (Naik 2012, 6) (Naik 2012,7). Jaguars are nocturnal animals but in some cases they do hunt in the daytime (Gray 2007, 4). The jaguar is very well-known for its hunting ability. “… jaguars… hunt by stealth, ambushing their prey from dense cover. Long canine teeth and powerful jaw muscles enable them to kill large animals swiftly…” (Gray 2007, 5). In water the jaguar swims and uses its large paws to catch its prey. On land, the Jaguar stays hidden in caves or bushes, slowly stalking their prey until it can attack. Another way they hunt is by climbing trees until its prey is in sight, then it pounces. Once the jaguar has its prey, it kills it with a powerful bite to the neck (Miller 2012, 9).

Due to the Jaguar's versatility it is able to hunt a wide range of animals. It eats more than 80 different kinds of species. Depending on the Jaguar's habitat, some of these species include cattle, sheep, rodents, peccaries, deer, birds, fish, armadillos, turtles, crocodiles, monkeys, pigs, iguanas, and many other kinds of animals (Miller 2012, 10) (Miller 2012, 11). “Jaguars rarely attack humans” (Miller 2012, 12).

Jaguars are not only known for their hunting skills but also for their maneuvering skills which comes in handy when hunting their prey in the thick forests (Naik 2011, 10). This stealthy animal spends its time either hunting or in the safety of tree tops (Anonymous 2012, 7). To remain safe, the Jaguar will defend its home at any means necessary. To prevent an attack, they mark their land with urine, scratch marks into trees, or use their mighty growl, which is a behavioral adaptation (Anonymous 2012, 8).

Another behavioral adaptation includes the reproduction of Jaguars. Unlike some animals, Jaguars do not have a particular mating season; they mate at any time of the year. Male and female jaguars only live together during the mating and pregnancy (Miller 2012, 13). The female Jaguar will not tolerate the male Jaguar in her territory at this point because she is very protective of her young (Anonymous 2012, 9). After a period of about 95 to 100 days, the female Jaguar gives birth to anywhere from one to four cubs, 2 is the usual amount. New born Jaguars can range in weight from about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds (Miller 2012, 14). Jaguar cubs are born blind, but in a period of about two weeks they gain their eye sight. At three months old the mother Jaguar takes care of her cubs, at such a young age they are considered helpless without her. The cubs will continue to rely on their mother until they are about 6 months old. At this age their mother begins to take her cubs with her to hunt. The cubs will not become fully independent until they reach about one or two years old; at this age they can start developing territory for themselves (Anonymous 2012, 10). The Jaguar has a life span of about 20 years and reach their sexual maturity at ages three and four, three for females and four for males (Miller 2012, 15).

A physical characteristic of the Jaguar is it fur coat. In the dense forests little light can reach the forest floor and the light that does, is scattered. This makes the spots on the Jaguar's fur blend in perfectly providing great camouflage for the animal (Naik 2011, 4) (Naik 2011, 3). Even though the Jaguar's coat is an important physical adaptation, others such as the Jaguar's large head, modified jaw and sharp teeth also play a key role in their survival (Naik 2011, 5). Forest Jaguars are much smaller in size than ones whose habitat is in an open area. This physical adaptation could be due to the fact that there are much smaller prey in forests, and it makes it easier for them to climb and fit into trees if they are smaller in size (Gray 2007, 6) (Naik 2011, 9).

Jaguars, like all cats have rough tongues. This structural adaptation is specially designed to peel away the flesh from the bones and skin of their prey. The Jaguar's skin around its stomach is very lose to prevent any injuries from prey that might try to fight back (Miller 2012, 4). The tail and paws of the Jaguar are also structural adaptations. The tail helps the Jaguar remain balanced and maneuver swiftly, while the large paws are heavily cushioned to help make little noise while sneaking up on its prey (Naik 2011, 11) ( Naik 2011, 8). “With all these adaptations to its credit, the Jaguar can easily survive in the harsh conditions of the rainforests. These very adaptations put the Jaguar at the top of the rainforest food chain as the apex predator” (Naik 2011, 12). 

“Extinction is forever. While some are promoting wildlife corridors to help this species survive, others are killing them” (Rosenthal 2012, 4). The Jaguar is known to be a threatened species, which means that they are not endangered yet, but they are very likely to become endangered in the future (Gray 2007, 19) (Gray 2007, 10). Even though 40% of the Jaguar population has been eliminated, there still remains about 15,000 Jaguars in existence (Anonymous 2012b, 3) (Gray 2007, 9) (Anonymous 2012, 21). Jaguars are faced with 4 main threats; deforestation, rancher shooting, poaching, and a decrease in natural resources. As new cities are being built and natural forest fires are becoming more common, the forests which the Jaguar inhabits are being cleared out. The result of this is that the Jaguar now has to venture out into unknown territory and try to make itself at home. This causes a major population decrease because Jaguars need vast areas of land with a great supply of water and food. Being forced to move into new territory could cause major issues for the species (Anonymous 2012b, 4) (Anonymous 2009, 8) (Gray 2007, 11) (Miller 2012, 20) (Peres 2002, 1) (Anonymous 2012, 14). “Jaguars cause 69% of cattle predation events.” As ranchers start settling in the Jaguars habitat, the Jaguar started to attack and kill the rancher’s livestock for food. This was most likely an alternative prey for the Jaguar considering most of its regular prey was eliminated by deforestation (De Azevedo 2012, 2) (De Azevedo 2012, 3). The only way the ranchers thought they could protect their cattle was by shooting any Jaguar that encroached on their territory (Gray 2007, 13) (Gray 2007, 12) (Miller 2012, 17). Poaching had existed on a very large scale around the 1960’s and 1970’s; around 18,000 Jaguars were killed every year. Although poaching does not occur in such large numbers today, there is still a high demand for their pelts (Gray 2007, 14) (Miller 2012,18) (Anonymous 2012b, 2). Importation of Jaguar pelts are forbidden in many countries (Miller 2012, 19). “A federal judge proceeded to sentence Maria Angela Plancarte and her husband, Elias Garcia, both 53, to a year and a day in prison for selling four Jaguar skins to federal undercover agents in Texas and Florida…they were found guilty of violating the Endangered Species Act and of conspiracy to traffic in protected wildlife” (Rosenthal 2012, 1) (Rosenthal 2012,2).

To add on to all of this, the Jaguars natural resources are decreasing. Due to deforestation the Jaguar has to fight other predators for limited land, causing death to Jaguars. Also food and water sources are decreasing due to deforestation. This causes the Jaguar to travel farther distances to find necessities which could be very dangerous in unfamiliar land (Gray 2007, 15). In the last 10 – 20 years Jaguar conservation has become more significant (Gray 2007, 18). Jaguars are important conservation icons for several reasons; they play an important role in balancing ecosystems due to the fact that they are top carnivores, they have cultural and economic value, and they can highly interfere with livestock if we do not start conserving them (Silver 2003, 1). If we let things continue the way they are, the species is most likely to be extinct by 2020 which could result in catastrophe for the ecosystem (Grelle 2004, 1) (Grelle 2004, 3).

“Over the years scientists have found it difficult to access the natural habitat of Jaguars, such as thick tropical rainforests, to observe it in action.” With all the new technologies we have available it is becoming much easier to track them. The use of motion activated cameras hidden away in forests is one of the new ways that scientists are tracking Jaguars (Gray 2007, 1). In 2003 a grid of camera traps were used by scientists over a period of two months to track animals; doing this they could track the animal’s population. This method is currently the most logical way of tracking Jaguars (Silver 2003, 2) (Silver 2012, 3). This new way is starting to replace the old much harsher method of radio telemetry. For radio telemetry, the animal must be captured and tranquilized, and then they attach radio transmitters to the Jaguars neck in order to track it. Using the new method it can help scientists estimate the amount and movements within a Jaguar population which plays a key role in conservation (Gray 2007, 3).

People may ask why Jaguars are so important to us humans. In our lives they actually have a great value. Jaguars help keep the number of its prey population under control which is very helpful (Gray 2007, 17). “Also, as part of the biodiversity pool of each ecosystem in which it lives, the Jaguar contributes to the general health and resilience of this ecosystem” (Gray 2007, 20). The Jaguar also has a very strong visual value to us; many admire its beautiful coat with its stunning spots and colors (Gray 2007, 21). Jaguars also have the ability to be a strong economical value to us. Ecotourism is growing more and more popular, and if we did this with Jaguars, not only would it benefit us, it would benefit the Jaguars too because they would be conserved in a safe area (Gray 2007, 23).


In conclusion, the Jaguar is a fascinating animal. Many people may not understand their importance in our lives, but by explaining its habitat, appearance, adaptations, and reasons why it is a threatened species, we humans can take into consideration why we need this animal. It is said the about 50% of the animals we have today will be extinct by the time this generation is age 60. By informing our generation about these specific kinds of animals, we can help save and better the future for many more generations to come.

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Anonymous. "Jaguar." (Panthera Onca). N.p., 2012. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <>.

Anonymousb. "Panthera." Panthera. N.p., 2012. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <>.

De Azevedo, Fernando. "Evaluation of Potential Factors Predisposing Livestock to Predation by Jaguars." Wiley Online Library. Wiley, 2012. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. <>.

Gray, Irina. "Jaguar AnimalOne Of The Largest Cats In The World." Jaguar Animal, One Of The Largest Cats In The World • Rainforest Animals. N.p., Nov. 2007. Web. 16 Apr. 2012. <>.

Grelle, Carlos. "Predicting Extinction of Mammals in the Brazilian Amazon." Oryx. N.p., 8 July 2004. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <>.

Miller, William. "Endangered Wildlife: Jaguar." Jaguars. N.p., 2012. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. <>.

Naik, Abhijit. "Jaguar Adaptations.", 09 June 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <>.

Peres, Carlos. "Vertebre Responces to Surace Wildfires in Central Amazonian Forests." Oryx. N.p., 11 Feb. 2002. Web. 16 Apr. 2012. <>.

Rosenthal, Elisabeth. "A Jail Term for Jaguar Smugglers." New York Times. N.p., 7 Mar. 2012. Web. 30 Apr. 2012. <>.

Silver, Scott C. "The Use of Camera Traps for Estimating Jaguar Panthera Onca Abundance and Density Using Capture/recapture Analysis." Oryx, 2004. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. <;jsessionid=1C4CD9111D75733E74E40F08E41E7087.journals?fromPage=online&aid=220195>.