The jaguar (Panthera onca) is the largest cat of the Americas and the third largest in the world after lions and tigers. While they can sometimes be mistaken for leopards due to their characteristic black-ringed markings, jaguars have a distinctive black spot at the centre of the rosette. Interestingly, although the base colour of most jaguar fur is pale or sandy, some jaguars are all brown or black (eg panthers), but their markings are always faintly evident. Sadly, these beautiful markings are one of the reasons these cats are persecuted by humans and poached for their pelts – as well as for their teeth, paws and several other parts.
All big cats have powerful muscles, which help them chase down prey, but are also handy for climbing trees where jaguars spend much of the day asleep. This apex predator tends to hunt and feed alone at night in the swamps, grasslands and forest of the Amazon, using stealth and ambush tactics to catch quarry.
As much of the jaguar’s home has been eliminated to make way for cattle ranches and crops, these normally covert cats have been forced out into the open. Their natural prey – including peccaries and turtles – are also dwindling. As a result these cats have developed a new taste for the more abundant cattle. By venturing out of cover, the jaguars leave themselves exposed to ranchers who view these amazing animals as pests. Jaguars will also often have to cross vast distances in search of their next meal, which brings them near to other dangers like roads and traps.
To safeguard the future of this remarkable creature, a project has been set up to conserve the jaguars’ safe passage from Argentina to Mexico. Called the Panthera Jaguar Corridor Initiative, it involves governments and conservation organisations as well as local communities making sure jaguars can travel from one wild region – through human-inhabited areas – to another. Activities include finding the safest and most beneficial corridor routes for the cats to take; educating local communities; and monitoring jaguar numbers as well as their prey populations.