Length: 6 feet + 30" tail
Weight: 100 - 250 lbs.
Reach Maturity: 3 Years
Gestation: ~100 days
No. of Young: 1-4 cubs
Habitat: Lowland forests.Solitary.
Food: Ground-living mammals, fish, frogs, turtles
Lifespan: 22 years
Jaguars are found throughout Belize in the lowland forests and along the coasts. Adult jaguars are solitary and only come together for a short time to breed. The size of a jaguars territory depends on food availability. In a forest such as the Cockscomb Basin, a jaguar will roam over a territory of about 20 square kilometers.
Jaguars hunt mainly on the ground and mainly at night. Its food consists of everything from mice to birds to tapir. Its favorite food in Belize is probably the warrie, which lives in abundance throughtout the Jaguars habitat.
Jaguars once lived throughout the Americas, from Arizona to the north to Argentina in the south. But hunting and forest clearing has reduced their numbers and forced them out of their habitat into interaction with man. Belize has one of the healthiest populations in Central America, and the Jaguar is protected from hunting throughout Belize.
The Jaguar is a New World mammal of the Felidae family and one of four "big cats" in the Panthera genus, along with the tiger, the lion and the leopard of the Old World. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and on average the largest and most powerful feline in the Western Hemisphere. The jaguar's present range extends from Mexico (with occasional sightings in the southwestern United States) across much of Central America and south to Paraguay and northern Argentina.
This spotted cat most closely resembles the leopard physically, although it is of sturdier build and its behavioural and habitat characteristics are closer to those of the tiger. While dense jungle is its preferred habitat, the jaguar will range across a variety of forested and open terrain. It is strongly associated with the presence of water and is notable, along with the tiger, as a feline that enjoys swimming. The jaguar is a largely solitary, stalk-and-ambush predator, and is opportunistic in prey selection. It is also an apex and keystone predator, playing an important role in stabilizing ecosystems and regulating the populations of prey species. The jaguar has developed an exceptionally powerful bite, even relative to the other big cats. This allows it to pierce the shells of armoured reptiles and to employ an unusual killing method: it bites directly through the skull of prey between the ears to deliver a fatal blow to the brain.
The jaguar is a compact and well-muscled animal. There are significant variations in size: weights are normally in the range of 56–96 kilograms (124–211 lb). Larger animals have been recorded as weighing 131–151 kilograms (288–333 lb) (roughly matching a tigress or lioness), and smaller ones have extremely low weights of 36 kilograms (80 lb). Females are typically 10–20% smaller than males. The length of the cat varies from 1.62–1.83 meters (5.3–6 feet), and its tail may add a further 75 centimeters (30 in). It stands about 67–76 centimeters (27–30 in) tall at the shoulders.
A short and stocky limb structure makes the jaguar adept at climbing, crawling and swimming. The head is robust and the jaw extremely powerful. It has been suggested that the jaguar has the strongest bite of all felids, and the second strongest of all mammals; this strength is an adaptation that allows the jaguar to pierce turtle shells. A comparative study of bite force adjusted for body size ranked it as the top felid, alongside the clouded leopard and ahead of the lion and tiger. It has been reported that "an individual jaguar can drag a 360 kg (800 lb) bull 8 m (25 ft) in its jaws and pulverize the heaviest bones". The jaguar hunts wild animals weighing up to 300 kilograms (660 lb) in dense jungle, and its short and sturdy physique is thus an adaptation to its prey and environment.
The base coat of the jaguar is generally a tawny yellow, but can range to reddish-brown and black. The cat is covered in rosettes for camouflage in its jungle habitat. The spots vary over individual coats and between individual Jaguars: rosettes may include one or several dots, and the shape of the dots varies. The spots on the head and neck are generally solid, as are those on the tail, where they may merge to form a band. The underbelly, throat and outer surface of the legs and lower flanks are white.
A condition known as melanism occurs in the species. The melanistic form is less common than the spotted form—six percent of jaguars in their South American range have been reported to possess it—and is the result of a dominant allele. Jaguars with melanism appear entirely black, although their spots are still visible on close examination. Melanistic Jaguars are informally known as black panthers, but do not form a separate species. Rare albino individuals, sometimes called white panthers, occur among jaguars, as with the other big cats.
The jaguar closely resembles the leopard, but is sturdier and heavier, and the two animals can be distinguished by their rosettes: the rosettes on a jaguar's coat are larger, fewer in number, usually darker, and have thicker lines and small spots in the middle that the leopard lacks. Jaguars also have rounder heads and shorter, stockier limbs compared to leopards.
In Central and South America, the jaguar has long been a symbol of power and strength. The Chavín cult of the jaguar became accepted over most of what is today Peru by 900 BC. Concurrent with Chavin, the Olmec, the progenitor culture of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, developed a distinct "were-jaguar" motif of sculptures and figurines showing stylized jaguars or humans with jaguar characteristics. In the later Maya civilization, the jaguar was believed to facilitate communication between the living and the dead and to protect the royal household. The Maya saw these powerful felines as their companions in the spiritual world, and kings were typically given a royal name incorporating the word jaguar. The Aztec civilization shared this image of the jaguar as the representative of the ruler and as a warrior. The Aztecs formed an elite warrior class known as the Jaguar Knights. In Aztec mythology, the jaguar was considered to be the totem animal of the powerful deity Tezcatlipoca.
Given the inaccessibility of much of the species' range—particularly the central Amazon—estimating jaguar numbers is difficult. Researchers typically focus on particular bioregions, and thus species-wide analysis is scant. In 1991, 600–1,000 (the highest total) were estimated to be living in Belize.
The major risks to the jaguar include deforestation across its habitat, increasing competition for food with human beings, poaching, hurricanes in Northern parts of its range, and the behaviour of ranchers who will often kill the cat where it preys on livestock. When adapted to the prey, the jaguars has been shown to take cattle as a large portion of its diet; while land clearance for grazing is a problem for the species, the jaguar population may have increased when cattle were first introduced to South America as the animals took advantage of the new prey base. This willingness to take livestock has induced ranch owners to hire full-time jaguar hunters, and the cat is often shot on sight.
The jaguar is regulated as an Appendix I species under CITES: all international trade in jaguars or their parts is prohibited. All hunting of jaguars is prohibited in Argentina, Belize, Colombia, French Guiana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, the United States (where it is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act), Uruguay and Venezuela. Hunting of jaguars is restricted to "problem animals" in Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru, while trophy hunting is still permitted in Bolivia. The species has no legal protection in Ecuador or Guyana.
Current conservation efforts often focus on educating ranch owners and promoting ecotourism. The jaguar is generally defined as an "umbrella species"—a species whose home range and habitat requirements are sufficiently broad that, if protected, numerous other species of smaller range will also be protected. Umbrella species serve as "mobile links" at the landscape scale, in the jaguar's case through predation. Conservation organizations may thus focus on providing viable, connected habitat for the jaguar, with the knowledge that other species will also benefit
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Photo by the Epping Family
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