MYSTERIOUS CAT OF THE AMAZON
Of all the big cats, the jaguar remains the least studied. While some information comes from the wild, most of what is known about jaguars has been learned from captive animals. Wild animals are difficult to study because they are extremely rare, the reason for this will be explained later.
What is known about jaguars is that they are solitary animals, meeting only to mate. The young stay with their mother for a few years before leaving to find their own territory. At about three years, they are fully mature and able to mate
|An adult jaguar weighs from 200 to 250 pounds, making it the largest cat in the North America. Jaguars hunt mainly at night. Their range of prey includes such forests and river animals as deer, pigs, sloth, fish, and even small alligators.|
Jaguars range mainly in Mexico, Central, and South America. Some sparse sites have been recorded in Texas, Arizona, southern California, and New Mexico. They live mainly in forests and swamplands. Jaguars are excellent swimmers, and are the most water loving of the cats.
JAGUARS AND LEOPARDS
One fact worth mentioning is the difference between leopards and jaguars. These two spotted cats seem identical, but show distinct differences when viewed in comparison. Both species have distinct builds and generally differing coat patterns.
Like all species, these two have a wide range in variation. Keeping this fact in mind, the following description is of the general differences of coats. Some jaguars and leopards may have coats that have less distinction. In general, the jaguar coat has larger rosettes in smaller numbers. The rosettes usually are darker, have thicker lines, and enclose smaller spots. The leopard coat has smaller, more faint rosettes in larger numbers. Leopard rosettes usually don't enclose spots. One common similarity, however , is melanism : the condition which makes the coat appear black. In both species, the rosettes can sometimes be seen in the right light.
More distinct differences are seen in the build of these two cats. The jaguar has an overall more muscular build. The body is compact, and the legs are more stocky than the more gracile leopard. The jaguar's head is also more stocky, with a larger looking jaw and an overall more square appearance to the face. Below is a small table comparing the two cats:
HUMANS AND JAGUARS
The jaguar is a common symbol of strength and power in central and South America. Like the lion in Europe and Africa, jaguars were associated with royalty and strength and bravery in warfare. In Maya civilization, the jaguar served to communicate between the living and the dead as well as protect the royal household. The Maya, known for their aggressiveness and brutal treatment of captives, saw these powerful cats as their companions in the spiritual world. Many rulers even had jaguars attributed to their names, such as 'Shield Jaguar', 'Jaguar Paw', 'Bird Jaguar', 'Smoke Jaguar', and 'Snake Jaguar'.( NOTE: the names attributed to these rulers are from one method of reading Maya glyphs, the literal representation of the symbols. The glyphs for these names would each have a jaguar depicted in them. Please note this may not be what the Maya actually called themselves; The pronunciation may have been more phonetic. I am not real clear on the reading of Maya glyphs and took the names from one author's method. I'll add a link to a site on Maya studies for a better description when I find a good one)
Aztec civilization also had the same image of the jaguar as representative of the ruler and as a warrior. This is best seen in the elite military order of the Jaguar Knights. This order could be joined by anyone, noble or commoner. Admission was obtained through the number of captives taken for sacrifice. Each captive taken advanced a warrior along different orders, and the forth allowed admission to the elite Jaguar Knights, and all the privileges the title entailed. Among these were exemption from taxation and tribute, taking part in war councils, invitations to dine in the royal palace, and the more gruesome: participation in cannibalistic feasts.
HUNTING TO NEAR EXTINCTION
As mentioned earlier, the jaguar is one of the rarest of the big cats. This unfortunately is due to human intervention. One cause is the destruction of the jaguars environment from deforestation for mining and timber. Some have also been hunted to protect livestock. A greater cause, however, is the fact that this beautiful cat has been an unfortunate victim of the fur trade. Beginning in the early 1900's, large scale hunting and export of jaguar pelts has greatly reduced the population. Although there was a decline in the 60's, the number of pelts exported was still high ( as many as 13, 516 in 1968 for example). Although the jaguar was put on the endangered species list in the 1970's, illegal trade and poaching still reduces numbers. Although there are conservation efforts, illegal activity continues to make the future of the jaguar uncertain.
Sources: 1. "Big cats: Kingdom of Might" Tom Brakefield. Voyageur Press,1993.
2."Wildlife fact file" pamphlet : Jaguar
3. "Maya Civilization" T. Patrick Culbert. Smithsonian Institution and Remy Press 1993, part of Smithsonian Exploring the Ancient World series.
4."Aztecs: Reign of Blood and Splendor" 1992 Time Life books, part of Lost Civilizations series.
BACK TO SPECIES