What is a Jaguar?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 18 January 2020
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A jaguar is a big cat in the genus Panthera. The cats were once found widely across Central and South America, although habitat depletion has greatly shrunk their range. Across the Americas, the jaguar is a largest wild cat and it is one of the most formidable predators. Jaguars are rarely seen in the wild, since they are rather reclusive, but many zoological parks keep jaguars, for people who would like to see one in person.

Many people confuse the looks of jaguars and leopards, since both big cats have distinctive spotted coats. However, jaguars are more compact and stocky than leopards, with obviously muscular rather than lean and streamlined bodies. In addition, the rosettes of a jaguar's spots may form rings, while a leopard's do not. Jaguars also have extremely strong jaws, which allow them to pierce the skulls of their prey with their very sharp teeth. A leopard is also somewhat smaller than a jaguar, generally.

As a general rule, a jaguar lives alone, preferring to be active at night and in the hours around dawn and dusk. Some jaguars will adopt a more diurnal lifestyle; the animals are highly adaptable so they will make lifestyle adjustments as needed, depending on individual circumstances. The big cats favor jungles and woodlands, but they can also be found in the grassland or pampas of South America. During flood conditions, a jaguar can live arboreally in the trees for an extended period of time.


Jaguars are also very flexible about their choice of prey. As a general rule, a jaguar prefers bigger prey like cattle, pigs, deer, and sheep, but they will also eat smaller animals like rats, mice, and frogs. Jaguars are also very adept swimmers, which allows them to range across great distances in search of prey. Some of the cats actively enjoy swimming and playing in the water; this trait is common to many big cats.

A female jaguar has two to four cubs yearly in a single litter, generally raising them for about six months before encouraging them to strike out on their own. Despite being highly adaptable, jaguars are at risk because their native territory is being rapidly depleted. The beautiful cats are also hunted for their fur, although such activity is banned. With captive breeding programs in zoos around the world, biologists hope to keep a strong genetic stock of jaguars so that the animals can be appreciated by future generations.


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Post 5

@SZapper - Actually, I have seen a few cats who enjoyed the water. One of my friends discovered that her cat likes to swim when he jumped in the bath tub with her one day!

I have seen jaguars in a zoo before, and truthfully, I didn't see too much resemblance between them and my cat. My cat is extremely lazy, while the jaguars I observed were extremely active!

Post 4

I've seen a few videos of Jaguars and other big cats online and I'm always surprised at how similar their behavior is to a house cats! They seem to have the same kind of walk and the same kind of behavior when stalking prey!

One thing a jaguar and a house cat do not have in common, however, is a love of water. My cat and most other cats I know absolutely hate water and will do anything to get out of having a bath. I had no idea that big cats in the wild actually liked to go for a swim!

Post 3

@letshearit - I think the trade of jaguar pelts is already regulated as well as it can be, and that people will continue to sell jaguar parts and furs as long as there is a demand for it. It is really tragic that people purchase such items and I think they are the ones that should be punished. I really believe that if we started cracking down on the people who have jaguar pelts in their homes we could put a serious wrinkle in the business.

I think that there should be some sort of registration system though, so if you have used jaguar pelts, that were purchased long before it became illegal to hunt them, and had proof of that, you could be exempt from any purchasing fines.

Post 2

There are still a lot of places in the world where jaguar pelts are sold on the black market, making it hard to conserve these beautiful cats. Just popping on the Internet and running a search brings up hundreds of articles on the smuggling of jaguar fur to make things like coats and rugs.

I really think there should be much stricter laws in place for those that smuggle illegal animal goods into countries. Those involved in jaguar sales should end up with a lengthy prison sentence and be stripped of their assets. How do you think we should handle the people trading in jaguar pelts?

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