Jaguars are the third largest cat in the world, only behind lions and tigers. They can grow up to 6 feet in length, and their tails along can be 2 feet long. They are also the only member of the genus Panthera to be native to the Americas. Jaguars once lived from Argentina to the Grand Canyon, but have now mostly been driven to extinction in the US by hunting, habitat loss, and farmers protecting their animals. Some good news, though, is that in Sonora, Mexico, a small population has managed to live due to conservation efforts from Mexico and the United States. Scientists think that Arizona could be a potentially vital habitat for jaguars as the climate continues to warm and animals move North. The jaguar can live in a variety of different environments, from rain forests to grasslands to swamps.
Jaguars live solitarily, except during mating season. A male’s territory may extend over 50 square miles. This often covers the same land as the territory of a few females, and the male will allow them to live near him and protect them against other males, if need be. Jaguars hunt anything they can catch, and are very skilled feline hunters. Typically, they will drop down from the trees or pounce from in hiding and kill with a single bite. This differs from how canines hunt in that cats rely on stealth rather than endurance. The name jaguar comes from a Native American word meaning “he who kills in one leap”. Some jaguars are black rather than the typical orange due to a genetic mutation, and in the rain forests, this actually benefits them because they can blend into the shadows better. Also, if you look closely, you can see that these black jaguars still do have spots. They can just be very faint.
Unlike most other cats, jaguars actually enjoy being in the water. They swim and play in rivers and even fish. They dip their tails into the water like a fishing line to attract fish. In fact, jaguars have even been known to swim across the Panama Canal.
Litters of jaguar kittens range from one to four babies. At birth, they are blind and helpless and rely solely on their mother. Luckily, their mother is fiercely protective and will defend them against any perceived threat or any other jaguar, even sometimes their father. The kittens stay with their mother, learning how to hunt and fend for themselves, for approximately a year or a year and a half.
Today, the jaguar is Near Threatened, largely due to deforestation and the destruction of the rain forests, but also hunting. There are 9 subspecies of jaguar in the world, and across all of them, about 15,000 cats in the wild. Conservation efforts are ongoing, though, so there is a lot of hope for their role in the future.
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