The jaguar is the largest cat in the Americas. Photo by Emmanuel Rondeau
This week we are excited to feature a series of articles about some of the most important landscapes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helps to protect in Central America, that are home to an incredibly biodiverse array of wildlife. As part of “Central America Week, ” we invite you to learn more about our cornerstone strategy with Wildlife Conservation Society to protect Central America’s five largest remaining wild places. We will also be spotlighting some of the charismatic species that live in these critical habitats. All of our Central America Week stories can be found here.
You may have heard that recently a jaguar named “El Jefe” (The Boss) was spotted in southern Arizona. While jaguars are now a rare sight in the United States, throughout the Americas, they are still the kings and queens of the jungle. Here are five cool facts about jaguars:
A camera trap image of a jaguar. Photo by Emmanuel Rondeau
1. Did you know that the jaguar is the biggest wild cat in the Western Hemisphere? Of all cat species in the world, only lions and tigers are bigger. The next largest cat species in the Western Hemisphere is the cougar or mountain lion. Sorry bobcats and lynx, you need not apply.
2. Jaguars have been revered by ancient cultures throughout the Americas, such as the Aztecs, Mayans and Moche. Ancient cities and buildings in these cultures often had statues, artwork and ceramics that featured jaguars prominently. For instance, in Mexico’s Chichen Itza Mayan archaeological site, a jaguar throne can still be seen.
A jaguar swims. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society
3. Have you ever seen a cat that liked to get wet? Jaguars are among the wild cats that like to swim! Some have even been observed swimming across the Panama Canal.
Guatemalan ranchers in the Maya Forest pose with a roadside sign for the “Jaguares para Siempre” campaign. Photo by Wildlife Conservation Society Guatemala
4. It might come as little surprise that with the growth of human populations over time, the range of jaguars has decreased (yes, we know, not really a cool fact… but stick with us...) One of the reasons that jaguars have become threatened is because as their forest habitat and prey sources shrink they will often kill cows as they increasingly encounter cattle ranches. Losing even one individual cow can be a devastating economic blow to a rancher or family, and fair or not, people will sometimes shoot jaguars on sight.
For this reason, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our partners are working with ranchers and communities throughout Central and South America to share jaguar-friendly ranching techniques that will help protect cattle, while allowing ranchers to peacefully co-exist with jaguars. In many places, now jaguars nearby are instead viewed as a source of community pride. This strategy has already yielded positive results at changing opinions and protecting jaguars forever. (See, pretty cool.) Jaguares para siempre!
5. You must be getting hungry after all of this reading. So let’s talk about food! Jaguars are the apex predators throughout their habitats. One study indicated that they eat at least 86 species! They often kill their prey with a powerful bite to the skull. What a weird way to eat, right? Well guess what, they use this technique to eat reptiles like turtles and pierce through their shells. They even eat caiman, a type of crocodilian species! That’s where the swimming can come in handy too.