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JaguarJaguars (Panthera onca) are the largest felid species in the New World and the only member of the genus Panthera, the roaring cats, that occurs in the Americas. They are the third largest cat species, being outsized only by lions (P. leo) and tigers (P. trigris). Although not the largest felid, jaguars have the strongest jaw in relation to head size of any of the cats, a fact that should be remembered whenever planning to capture and immobilize these animals. The body weight of jaguars is 90 - 120 kg for males and 60 - 90 kg for females, with a large variation in body size. Jaguars live in a wide variety of tropical habitats, ranging from montane forest and wet savannah to tropical rain forest and deciduous tropical forest. The largest documented jaguars occur in wet savannahs while jaguars that live in more forested regions tend to be smaller in size

Zoological name: Panthera onca

Species: The jaguar is the largest species of cat native to the Western Hemisphere. Jaguars are muscular cats with relatively short, massive limbs and a deep-chested body.

Presence on the planet: Jaguars inhabit the rainforests of South America. They occur in the countries of southern Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Panama, El Salvador, Uraguay, Guatemala, Peru, Columbia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Surinam, and French Guiana. Jaguars used to range as far north as Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California, but their population line has receded farther south. Their niche in these areas has been taken over by the cougar.

Habitat: The jaguar prefers the dense lowland rainforests where it is humid and damp. They aviod open grasslands and open, seasonally dry forests.

Physical appearance: Jaguars are the largest cat in the western hemisphere. In comparison with the leopard, the jaguar is generally larger and much stockier, with a broad heavy head, much shorter legs and tail (a good visual description might be a leopard on steroids). The background of the jaguar's coat is a tawny-yellow, like many of the Asiatic leopards, and lightened to whitish on the throat and belly. The jaguar is marked with small isolated spots on the head and neck with dark open ring structures, rosettes,on the sides and flank that generally contain one to four dark spots inside the rings. Interestingly, the rosettes of the leopard and the jaguar are almost identical with the exception of the jaguar having spots "inside" the rosettes where the leopard has none. Along the middle of the jaguar's back, a row of black spots may merge into a solid line. According to one Indian myth, the jaguar acquired its spotted coat by daubing mud on its body with its paws.
Diet: Their food habits are not well-known. In Mexico, they are known to prey on peccaries; many of the Mexicans believe that each large herd of peccaries is trailed by a jaguar so that he can feed on the stragglers. They probably prey also on deer and large ground-dwelling birds. Jaguars are reputed to be so destructive of cattle and horses that the larger Mexican ranches retain a "tiger hunter" to kill them or at least to drive them away. Jaguars are also fond of sea turtle eggs and they roam the beaches on spring nights to dig up and eat the eggs that are buried in the sand.

Reproduction & Offspring: Jaguars have no established breeding season, with reproduction taking place any time during the year. A series of roaring "calls" and urinary scent marking, by both sexes, help amorous males locate receptive females during estrous. After maiting, the pair separates, with the female providing all parenting for the resulting offspring. Litters average one to four cubs, born blind with each weighing two to two and one half pounds, after a gestation period of 95 to 105 days. The cubs generally remain in the den where they were born for up to six months. The coat of the jaguar cub is wooly with spots much like the adult pattern, although the background color on the adult is more subdued. The cubs are weaned by the age of three months when they begin to accompany their mother on hunts, ultimately remaining with her for up to 24 months when, they leave to establish territories of their own.

Conservation status: Deforestation rates are high in Latin America and fragmentation of forest habitat isolates jaguar populations so that they are more vulnerable to the predations of man. People compete with jaguars for prey, and jaguars are frequently shot on sight, despite protective legislation. Jaguars are also known to kill cattle, and are killed by ranchers as pest species. The vulnerability of the jaguar to persecution is demonstrated by its disappearance by the mid-1900's from the south-western US and northern Mexico. Commercial hunting and trapping of jaguars for their pelts has declined drastically since the mid-1970's, when anti-fur campaigns and CITES controls progressively shut down international markets.

Jaguar Status: CITES: Appendix I. IUCN: Near Threatened. The jaguar is fully protected at the national level across most of its range, with hunting prohibited in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, United States, Uruguay and Venezuela, and hunting restrictions in place in Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru. The species also occurs within protected areas in some of its range.

Life span: 20-22 years
The human-eaters!

Jaguars have a reputation for being human-eaters. However, numerous stories of men being followed for miles through the forest by solitary jaguars may suggest that they are merely escorting them off their territory and not stalking them as prey. There are also stories from the Amazonian Indians that tell of jaguars emerging from the forest to play with village children.

Jaguars are revered in many indigenous American cultures. The Maya believed that the Jaguar, God of the Underworld, helped the sun to travel under the earth at night, ensuring its new rising every morning.

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  Bengal Tiger with Taj Mahal (13 D)
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