Endangered Species: The Jaguar

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The jaguar is the largest cat of its species, beholding to be the most powerful and the only Panthera in the New World. The genus of the cat Panthera Onça, comes from the Greek language – Panthera being “for all” and “hunter”, and Onça meaning “hook” or “barb”. The name “jaguar” comes from the Indian, originally “yaguar” which means “he who kills at one leap”.

The Jaguar once distanced from the southern states of the U.S. down to the top of South America, and lived in California until the 1860’s. Today it distances from the southwestern U.S. to Argentina. After years and decades, perhaps centuries of hunting these animals, the jaguar has now become so few in quantity, which is today estimated being around 15,000 left.. There hasn’t been many written records of the history of the jaguar in terms of timeline to the public, but as you can see on fig. 1, the jaguar’s distribution once stretched from the U.S. to top, more or less middle of South America. The borderlands of the jaguar today is shown in fig. 2 . It is very clear to see the difference from now and then (about the 1860, early 1800’s).
KINGDOM: Animalia
PHYLUM: Chordata
CLASS: Mammalia
ORDER: Carnivora
FAMILY: Felidae
SUBFAMILY: Pantherinae
GENUS/SPECIES: Panthera Onça

A jaguar can be up to 159kg in weight, and 180cm in height (from head to tail), which is over twice as much as a leopard. Still, the jaguar gets confused with the leopard. They can both have a yellowish/brown base fur color marked with dark rosettes, although jaguars are more “buffy”, having a more muscular body and a shorter tail, additionally a larger head. Apart from yellowish/brown, jaguars can also be from black to white. Its colors and body size mostly depends on its location, for instance, why jaguars are darker in color living in dense forests are linked to them being a better camouflage. Jaguars are good tree climbers and runners, but they tire quickly. Unlike many other cats, the jaguar loves water and is a very good swimmer.

Panthera Onça arizonensis Southern U.S. to Northwest Mexico
Panthera Onça centralis Central America, Columbia
Panthera Onça goldmani Southwest Yucatan, Northern Guatemala, Mexico, Belize
Panthera Onça hernadesi Western coastlands of Mexico
Panthera Onça onça Amazon Rain forest and Forests of Orinoco
Panthera Onça pintada Brazil
Panthera Onça palustris Southern Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina
Panthera Onça paraguensis Paraguay
Panthera Onça veraecrusis Chiapas to Texas and Louisiana
Panthera Onça peruvianus Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia

Jaguars prefer forests and savannas as their habitat, but dry woodland and grassland would satisfy them too, if the area is above 8,000 feet. The difference in a jaguar and a leopard also shows in their habitats – jaguars and leopards tend to live in different areas of the globe. The forest and grassland make the jaguar’s food and water available. The forest, for example, helps the jaguar to hunt monkeys, as the cat is a very good climber, that it climbs to hunt down the monkeys. The cat is a carnivore, and its prey includes 85 species, such as fish, horses, eggs, dogs, amphibians, alligators, turtles, birds, reptiles and medium-sized mammals. It usually stalks its preys and the big cats even kill their preys buy piercing their skull. The jaguar is on top of the food web, and unlike other cats, its only natural predator is the Anaconda snake. Man is a big threat to jaguars as well, for the fact that man has mainly hunted the jaguar for its fur. But no other predator can compete with the jaguar – it is so much more powerful.

The jaguar’s behavior is very complex. They tend to get very aggressive and temperamental as years pass by. They are solitary animals where males and females only come together during mating, after the age of 3, which is when they reach their sexual maturity. The male leaves the female with the cubs, but even the male takes part in raising its cubs to learn how to hunt and survive. The mother can give birth up to four cubs every time, and gestation lasts 90-110 days. When cubs are born, they are blind during the first two weeks, so they are constantly watched over during that time, and with their mothers up to the age of two. At four, they are considered as adults. The territorial markings of a jaguar is wither by tree scrapes or its urine.

The importance of the jaguar in the ecosystem is not very critical, but critical to some extent. This is because the jaguar is the top predator – so it feeds on lots of animals. This balances the ecosystem the jaguar is a part of. If jaguars were to go extinct, the number of these animals would perhaps increase, which might change the current ecosystem, from what it is now, to a new ecosystem that will adjust to the species left. However, because of being the highest up on the food web, the jaguar won’t affect the rest of the organisms by its endangered status, but it is a beautiful and attractive animal that shouldn’t go extinct.

The causes for jaguar endangerment is mostly human. Humans hunt jaguars for sports, for the pleasure of hunting, for its beautiful fur, and/or jaguars get killed by farmers that have hade their livestock destroyed. All of the subspecies of the Panthera onça are endangered and a lot of them are extinct except in zoos. When they are hunted, they are mostly hunted for their fur and during the 60’s-70’s, approximately 18,000 jaguars were killed every year for manufacture of their fur in return of expense. Unless they get attacked or feel cornered, jaguars don’t attack humans (they seldom do). Yet, humans kill these so unique and attractive animals…
Apart from humans, another source of jaguar endangerment is habitat loss. This is because their forests get cleared out and the jaguar’s own necessities include its prey animals and large territory to provide these preys, along with water, possible forests and the suitable ecosystem/environment for the jaguar. Jungles for instance, a pleasing ecosystem for the jaguar, are being ruined which means another loss of habitat. Therefore, the habitat plays a big role in the jaguar’s importance of extinction. The situation is definitely getting worse, and the reason for that is because forests are still getting cleared out, even if humans don’t hunt as much now as they once did, hunting still occurs. The extinction of the jaguars might occur, but it seems to stay stabled right now. The zoos will keep the jaguars active for a while in time, but for how long will jaguars feel like home in zoos? They might not, but in order to survive, they will have to be watched, either by zoos or the protection from the National Parks. Jaguars need their habitat, just like we need ours. Besides, it will take several decades before we can grow “back” the forests again, even if some law would demand that (not that it would, especially the U.S. and majority of Europe), the jaguars and all of the other animals in the same situation as the jaguar, would probably be extinct by then or very, very few left. The endangerment sources have changed the jaguar’s nature a lot and from my point of view, it seems impossible to get back the same nature it had from, say 100 years ago.

Currently, the Jaguar is an officially endangered animal by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is also now listed as endangered in the U.S., South and Central America and Mexico. Many National Parks try to protect the areas of the jaguar to try to reduce the decrease of them. WWF has been a great protection service for jaguars, also providing with the cooperation of the government, 150m2 of a rainforest area in Belize in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Preserve. This has also been recognized as the largest focus of the species of wild cats in the world. Additionally, WWF also offer an aid for South America, by protecting specific areas where the majority of jaguars remaining is protected.

Other organizations, like the Federal Endagerment Species Act has now banned the transaction and importation of jaguar furs in the U.S. Even in certain areas of North America, special laws are enforced in order to protect the jaguar and the wildlife. CITES have also put effort in to it and have shut down the markets that sold these furs internationally. This is a good way to help the jaguar remain from extinction – these organizations are putting good effort to try to save these jaguars. Despite that, I also think that more laws of the jaguar habitats should clearly suggest (and carry out) to not clear their forests, and try to provide some of the jaguars need in the ecosystem. Also, the government should have extra laws, stricter laws against the hunting with a much higher security for, not only the jaguars, but the rest of the wildlife as well. An ideal solution would be, taking all of the ruined habitats of the jaguar and leave it to grow a forest again, providing every single care needed, but that wouldn’t be very realistic from the side of humans today, considering what our world is looking like and how it is developing today. Humans don’t give as much of their concern to these issues anymore, the government is out only developing technology, and with this technology to become a greater power (a pattern since 1914, even earlier back) and rule over others, establishing wars which end up starting the continent from all over again. The point is, even the high developed countries haven’t YET understood the result of any war, therefore the animals in vain, such as the jaguar doesn’t get the help it can get.

Although looking at it now, it is hard to say whether or not the jaguar will go extinct or not. I do, however believe that the number, currently 15,000 as I earlier mentioned, will decrease somewhat because of the minor hunting that still occurs, but it doesn’t seems like the jaguar will go extinct in at least 20-25 years of time, because of these protection services being held and the preservation of these animals whom are constantly being watched and under control in the sense of security. The development of the endangerment seems rare to me, therefore I can more or less say that the life of the endangered jaguars are for now, crucially saved for a, perhaps temporary, time.


Citizen Review Online: The Widlands Project Comes to Hidalgo County (part 14), accessed 8/3-2003
The Cat Survival Trust (for endangered species): Margay, accessed 8/3-2003
http://www.catsurvivaltrust.org/margay.htm <...

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