The jaguar is the largest cat in the Americas. Jaguars typically have a tan or yellow coat with black spots called rosettes, but some jaguars can be melanistic, meaning they are all black with barely visible rosettes. These cats are incredibly powerful and are able to take down prey several times their size, such as tapirs. They have the second strongest jaws in the mammal kingdom, which helps them consume a wide variety of prey in their native habitats.
Diet: Jaguars are carnivorous and as apex predators they’re at the very top of the food chain. They are known to eat over 80 different species of animals, from turtles and fish to caiman and tapirs. Like all cats, jaguars are ambush predators that get as close as they can to their prey before leaping out to catch them. Due to the strength of their jaws, jaguars are known to capture their prey by the skull.
In the Wild: Jaguars tend to be solitary cats, occupying large home ranges that may have multiple types of habitat. Jaguars range as far north as southern Arizona. While it is often assumed that cats avoid water, jaguars are one of several cat species that will actively seek it out. They are naturally skilled swimmers and are known to cross large rivers in pursuit of mating opportunities or food.
Conservation issues/actions: One of the most significant threats to jaguars is habitat loss and fragmentation. Forest and scrub or grassland provide cover for jaguars to successfully hunt, as well as for females to find safe places to hide their cubs. Unfortunately, deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate as a result of human activity; this includes logging, clearing for agriculture or livestock grazing, and encroaching human settlements. These activities fragment, or interrupt, jaguar habitat and prevent them from being able to safely get to each other for breeding purposes, as well as from accessing food sources. Jaguar populations are further threatened by poaching and competition with humans for the same resources. Choosing to purchase rainforest products that have been sustainably grown, and following recycle, reduce, reuse, and refuse actions in our day to day lives can help preserve critical jaguar habitat.
At the Zoo:
Jaguars are not only great swimmers but also adept climbers, so they are provided with sturdy trees to climb, a hammock to rest in, and the high places they favor to survey their habitat at the Zoo.