The Western Hemisphere’s “King of the Jungle”

WHAT is it? The jaguar, the largest cat in the Americas. Where might you find it? In jungles, swamps, forests, deserts, and scrublands of Central and South America. Unlike most cats, this one is at home not only on the ground or in the trees but even in the water.

Try to picture yourself standing next to a full-grown male jaguar. It may be up to six feet [2 m] long, not including the tail, and weigh 260 pounds [120 kg] or more. Being a solitary creature, the jaguar meets with others of its species only to mate. A male is ready for this by the age of three or four, while a female may have her first litter by age two. Her litter of usually two cubs is born after developing in the womb for three to four months. Some jaguars are known to live more than 20 years in captivity.

Regarding the mystery and elusiveness of these large cats, one biologist noted: “Jaguars are so hard to find! I can be standing right next to one, . . . and still I may never see it.” The cat’s tawny golden coat splashed with black rosettes, which enclose smaller spots, helps it hide and then disappear into the shadows without being seen.

A Lone, Silent Hunter

An experienced hunter, the jaguar feeds on about 85 species of animals, including tapirs, deer, and monkeys. Because it is at home in the water, the jaguar also catches fish and turtles with ease. Observers once saw a jaguar kill a full-grown horse, drag it some 250 feet [80 m] on dry ground, and then pull it across a river.

This clever cat often waits for its prey while perched silently in a tree. As an unsuspecting herd of peccaries​—fast, piglike creatures—​pass below, the jaguar pounces. With one powerful bite, it kills one and quickly springs back into the tree. It waits there for the herd to pass and then recovers its kill.

Yet, the jaguar is the least likely of the big cats to attack a human, and it has never been listed as a man-eater. In fact, humans are a much greater threat to the jaguar than the jaguar is to them.

Why So Few

Jaguars once roamed from the southern United States to near the tip of South America. Today, they have disappeared from nearly half their range of a hundred years ago. Until the mid-1970’s, hunters killed thousands of jaguars every year for their pelts. In 1968  alone, over 13,500 of these were exported from the Americas. In 2002, it was estimated that fewer than 50,000 jaguars remained. Now perhaps only about 15,000 are left that are not in zoos.

A Wildlife Conservation Society study reports that nearly 40 percent of the jaguar’s traditional homeland has been destroyed by deforestation. In Mexico alone, habitat equivalent to the size of a football field reportedly disappears every minute. This forces the jaguar to prey on livestock in order to survive.

Efforts to Preserve

Some 200 countries support regulations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species that make it illegal to hunt jaguars for commercial purposes. National park preserves have been created to protect their natural habitat. In 1986 the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize became the world’s first jaguar preserve. Additionally, Mexico has set aside more than 370,000 acres [150,000 ha] of tropical forest within the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve on the Yucatán Peninsula to protect the jaguar.

How successful such human efforts will be to preserve this “king of the jungle” remains to be seen. Yet, we can be comforted in knowing that our loving Creator will soon “bring to ruin those ruining the earth” and that in time peace will exist between mankind and the animals, as God intended.​—Revelation 11:18; Isaiah 11:6-9.

[Map on page 24, 25]

(For fully formatted text, see publication)

Jaguar Range

Original range

Current range