Jaguar (Sp), Jaguar (G), Jaguar (F). Often called tigre in countries where Spanish is spoken, and onca where Portuguese is spoken.
DESCRIPTION (male) South American jaguars are 7-8-1/2 feet in length (2.1-2.6 m), including 18-29 inches (46-74 cm) of tail, stand 27-30 inches (68-76 cm) at the shoulder and weigh 200-230 pounds (91-104 kg), with some individuals considerably larger. Females are approximately 25 percent smaller than males. The largest jaguars are found near the equator, their size diminishing to the north and south. This is the opposite of many other mammals, which tend to decrease in size toward the equator.
The South American jaguar is the largest cat in the Western Hemisphere, much larger than the jaguar of North America or the cougars from either continent. The largest jaguars of all-heavily built, deep-bodied, with massive forequarters-are found in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil and adjacent parts of Bolivia. The coat is yellow to reddish-yellow with black spots that form square-shaped rosettes on head, neck and legs. The underparts are white or light buff with large black blotches. The tail is relatively short, the head is large and broad and the large yellow eyes are placed well forward.
BEHAVIOR Solitary and territorial, the male is a wanderer with a home range twice the size of a female's and overlapping those of several females. There is no fixed breeding season. The female probably mates every 2-3 years, bearing a litter of 1-4 kittens that remain with her for about two years. Life expectancy 15 years, although captives have lived as long as 22 years.
Entirely carnivorous, it preys mostly on capybara, deer and peccaries, also on sloths, tapirs, fish, caimans and snakes. Often kills domestic livestock, which has made it unpopular with ranchers and has led to its persecution. A good tree climber and an excellent swimmer; unlike most cats, it is fond of water. May be diurnal or nocturnal, depending on the presence of humans. Eyesight and hearing are excellent, sense of smell reasonably good. As a "great" cat, the jaguar is able to roar, but its usual vocalization is a series of deep, raspy, coughing grunts.
HABITAT Forests, preferably dense and especially near rivers or swamps. Also in open country if prey animals are plentiful.
DISTRIBUTION Throughout South America in suitable habitat, except for the extreme south, but primarily in Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia.
Outside South America, it is found in Central America and Mexico.
REMARKS The South American jaguar is a magnificent animal, the "king of the rain forest," and one of the very top hunting trophies of the Americas or of the world. Any adult male is a fine trophy, but securing one can be difficult. There are several methods. One is by calling, especially at night from a blind or machan. Another is by baiting; after a bait has been hit one can either sit by it at night or follow the jaguar's trail with a pack of dogs. The last can be wet, miserable work during the rainy season, with the dogs swimming much of the time and the hunters following as best they can on foot or horseback, or even by dugout, until the final chase, when all participants are likely to be in the water. Smaller males and most females tend to tree when the dogs get close, but bigger males are likely to stand and fight the dogs on the ground, which can be an unforgettable experience for all concerned. A properly conducted jaguar hunt can be one of the world's great adventures.
TAXONOMIC NOTES Eight subspecies of jaguar are listed, three in South America and five in North America. South American subspecies are: onca (Amazon jaguar), from the Amazon and Orinoco river basins; peruviana (Peruvian jaguar), from Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia; and palustris (Parana jaguar), from southern Brazil and Argentina. We do not separate them.
STATUS In parts of South America, jaguars are plentiful and detrimental to livestock and may lawfully be hunted. Nonetheless, all jaguars are listed as endangered by the USF&WS (1972) and are on Appendix I of CITES (1975).