Classification and Range
Jaguars belong to the family Felidae, which includes 36 species of cats. Jaguars are classified under the genus Panthera which includes four species of "big cats", the jaguar, tiger, lion and leopard.
There are eight subspecies of jaguar. Jaguars are considered the equivalent of leopards in the New World, and are the largest species of cats in the Western Hemisphere.They are distributed throughout most of Mexico, Central and South America, while lone individuals are rarely seen in the southwestern United States.
Mostly deciduous and tropical rain forest, but jaguars can range from montane areas to the wet savanna. Jaguars are often found near fresh water where they hunt fish.
Head/Body Length and Shoulder Height
Adult length (including tail): 5-8.5 feet (1.6-2.6 m)
Adult height: 27-30 inches (68-76 cm); females are smaller.
Adult weight: 79-348 pounds (36-158 kg); females weigh less.
In the wild, about 11 years; up to 22 years in zoos
In the wild: Deer, peccaries, monkeys, tapirs, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, small rodents and domestic stock if readily available. Jaguars can survive on anything from herd animals to insects.
At the zoo: Beef, mutton, chicken, rabbit, beef knuckle bones and commercially prepared feline diet, ground meat and vitamins.
Female jaguars sexually mature at about 2 years of age; males at 3 to 4 years. Mating in the wild or in captivity may occur at any time; the female is receptive for about 6-17 days. Gestation lasts about 93-110 days. Female jaguars usually give birth to one to four cubs, averaging two young per litter. She gives birth in a den surrounded by a dense thorn thicket, or under tree roots.
Jaguar cubs are usually born with their eyes closed, weigh about 25-29 ounces (700-900 gr), and are highly dependent upon their mother for survival. After about two weeks, a cub's eyes open. Soon thereafter, jaguar young may leave the den, only to explore and play not far from their mother. Cubs continue to suckle until they are 5 to 6 months old. Cubs start to follow their mother on hunts when they are about 6 months old, but will not hunt alone until they are one to 2 years of age. By that time, they are ready to leave their mother's side to look for their own territory and mate.
On Their Own
Jaguars, like most species of cats, are solitary animals who occupy large areas of land. Large territories are more likely to contain sufficient numbers of prey species to sustain them. They mark their territory with urine, scent markings, and by scratching nearby trees. In areas of high prey density, jaguars may share limited parts of their home range with other jaguars. Mothers with young, subadult siblings, and courting or mating individuals are the few occasions that jaguars spend time together.
When a female is ready to mate, she will stray from her own territory to find a mate. In order to locate a mate, males make a mewing cry. While a female is searching for a mate, she may sometimes be accompanied briefly by several males.
Silent Solitary Stalkers
Jaguars are nocturnal hunters, and do most of their stalking on the ground. They are also excellent climbers, leaping from a tree or a ledge to ambush their prey. Jaguars have a compact body, with a large broad head and powerful jaws. With large prey, jaguars commonly bite the head and puncture the skull with their canine teeth. Jaguars dispatch smaller prey by simply breaking their necks. Large carcasses are either buried or hidden in a sheltered area, for the jaguar will return to eat when it is hungry again. The jaguar is also a patient hunter of fish. It waits by the water's edge, occasionally hitting the surface of the water with its tail, which inadvertently attracts fish. As the fish approach the shore, the jaguar swats at them, spearing the fish with its sharp claws.
Location at the Zoo
Woodland Park Zoo's jaguars are located in the Jaguar Cove exhibit at the entrace to our Tropical Rain Forest zone. The exhibit contains the upper fallen portion of a kapok tree, a limestone cave, a flowing stream, a pool with live fish, sandy shoreline, a waterfall, abundant plants and naturalistic shelters. Outside the exhibit is a research tent to provide education programs and informal learning. We have a male and female jaguar; because these animals are naturally very solitary, they are rotated in the exhibit so you will not see them together.
Jaguars are an endangered species. Estimates indicate that over 10,000 still exist in the wild. However, their numbers are decreasing rapidly as a result of habitat destruction and the commercial fur trade. In many areas, they are near extinction. Although large resident populations still exist in the Amazon rain forests, the key to the jaguar's continued survival is its ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions.
The zoo participates in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums' (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) for jaguars. The primary focus of the jaguar SSP, which manages the captive population in North America, is education and conservation of the species in its countries of origin. For more information on the Jaguar SSP, visit its website at http://jaguarssp.com/.
How You Can Help!
You can help preserve and protect wildlife and their habitat. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Please do not buy products made from wild animal parts. Contact your elected representatives and express your views about conservation of endangered species and wild habitats.
Contact Woodland Park Zoo at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out ways you can support conservation programs at the zoo. Discover more about endangered cats by calling the International Society for Endangered Cats, Inc. at 1-800-465-6384 or (403) 279-5892 or at their website. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.
Sources and Suggested Reading
Alderton, David. 1993. Wild Cats of the World. Facts On File, Inc., New York, NY. 192 p. Sleeper, Barbara. 1995. Wild Cats of the World. Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, NY. 216 p.
Resnick, Jane. 1994. Cats. Kidsbooks, Inc., Chicago, IL. 29 p.
Zoobooks. 1992. Big Cats. Wildlife Education, Ltd., San Diego, CA. 16 p.