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Panthera onca

ListedMarch 28, 1972
DescriptionMuscular cat that is cinnamon-buff with many black spots.
HabitatVariety of habitats.
ReproductionAverage litter is two cubs.
ThreatsClearing of habitat, destruction of riparian areas, fragmentation or blocking of corridors, settlement of land, development of cattle industry, hunting.
RangeArizona, New Mexico, Texas


The jaguar (Panthera onca ) is the largest species of cat native to the Western Hemisphere. Jaguars are muscular cats with relatively short, massive limbs and a deep-chested body. They are cinnamon-buff in color with many black spots; melanistic forms are also known, primarily from the southern part of the range.


Jaguars breed year-round range-wide, but at the southern and northern ends of their range there is evidence for a spring breeding season. Gestation is about 100 days; litters range from one to four cubs, usually two. Cubs remain with their mother for nearly two years. Females begin sexual activity at three years of age, males at four. Studies have documented few wild jaguars more than 11 years old.

The list of prey taken by jaguars range-wide includes more than 85 species, such as javelina, capybaras, pacas, armadillos, caimans, turtles, and various birds and fish. Javelina and deer are presumably mainstays in the diet of jaguars in the United States and Mexico borderlands.


Jaguars are known from a variety of habitats. They show a high affinity to lowland wet habitats, typically swampy savannahs or tropical rain forests. However, they also occur, or once did, in upland habitats in warmer regions of North and South America.

In Arizona, jaguars ranged widely throughout a variety of habitats from Sonoran desert scrub upward through subalpine conifer forest. Most of the records were from Madrean evergreen-woodland, shrub-invaded semidesert grassland, and along rivers.


The jaguar's range in North America includes Mexico and portions of the southwestern United States. A number of jaguar records are known from Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Additional reports exist from California and Louisiana. Records of the jaguar in Arizona and New Mexico have been attributed to the subspecies Panthera onca arizonensis. Jaguars have been recorded in the mountainous parts of eastern Arizona north to the Grand Canyon, the southern half of western New Mexico, northeastern Sonora, and, formerly, southeastern California. Panthera onca veraecrucis has been recorded on the Gulf slope of eastern and southeastern Mexico from the coast region of Tabasco, north through Vera Cruz and Tamaulipas, to central Texas.

The historical range of the jaguar also includes portions of the States of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana. The current range occurs from central Mexico through Central America and into South America as far as northern Argentina. The United States no longer contains established breeding populations, which probably disappeared in the 1960s. Jaguars prefer a warm, tropical climate, are usually associated with water, and are only rarely found in extensive arid areas.

The most recent records of a jaguar in the United States are from the New Mexico/Arizona border area and in south central Arizona, both in 1996, and confirmed through photographs. In 1971, a jaguar was taken east of Nogales, Arizona, and, in 1986, one was taken from the Dos Cabezas Mountains in Arizona. The latter individual reportedly had been in the area for about a year before it was killed.

In 1988, the Arizona Game and Fish Department cited two reports of jaguars in Arizona. The individuals were considered to be transients from Mexico. One of the reports was from 1987 from an undisclosed location. The other report was from 1988, when tracks were observed for several days prior to the treeing of a jaguar by hounds in the Altar Valley, Pima County.

An unconfirmed report of a jaguar at the Coronado National Memorial was made in 1991. In 1993, an unconfirmed sighting of a jaguar was reported for Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.


Clearing of habitat, destruction of riparian areas, and fragmentation or blocking of corridors may prevent jaguars from recolonizing previously inhabited areas. Although there is currently no known resident population of jaguars in the United States, wanderers from Mexico may cross the border and take up residency in available habitat. Clearing of habitat could affect jaguars either directly or through effects on their prey.

In Arizona, the jaguar's gradual decline was concurrent with predator control associated with the settlement of land and the development of the cattle industry. Between 1885 and 1959, 45 jaguars were killed, six sighted, and two recorded by evidence such as tracks and/or droppings. The accumulation of all known records indicated a minimum of 64 jaguars were killed in Arizona after 1900. Seven jaguars were killed in Texas between 1853 and 1903. Jaguars were killed for commercial sale of their furs in central Texas during the late nineteenth century.

Although the demand for jaguar pelts has diminished, it still exists along with the business of illegal hunting of jaguars. In 1992, Arizona Game and Fish Department personnel infiltrated a ring of wildlife profiteers. That operation resulted in the March 1993, seizure of three jaguar specimens, of which one was allegedly taken from the Dos Cabezas Mountains in Arizona in 1986. Two of the specimens had been covertly purchased from the suspects. During the investigation, several ties to Mexico jaguar hunting were discovered. Hounds bred and trained in the United States were sold to Mexican nationals for the purpose of hunting jaguars. Also, Mexican nationals prosecuted in 1989 for illegally importing jaguar pelts into the United States were continuing the practice of providing jaguar hunts in Mexico.

Loss and modification of the jaguar's habitat are likely to have contributed to its decline. While only a few individuals are known to survive in the United States (Arizona and New Mexico), the presence of the species in the United States is believed to be dependent on the status of the jaguar in northern Mexico. Documented observations are as recent as 1996.

Conservation and Recovery

Federal and state officials have been charged with arresting anyone caught shooting, hunting, or trapping jaguars, as well as any intentional clearing or destruction of habitat known to be occupied by jaguars. Individuals may not significantly modify or degrade habitat to the extent that it significantly impairs essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding or sheltering. Individuals also may not harass jaguars, which is defined as an intentional or negligent act or omission which creates the likelihood of injury to jaguars by annoying it to such an extent as to significantly disrupt normal behavior patterns. It is also prohibited to use any predator control activities that trap, kill, or otherwise injure jaguars.


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
P.O. Box 1306
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87103-1306
Telephone: (505) 248-6911
Fax: (505) 248-6915

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Arizona Ecological Services Field Office
2321 W. Royal Palm Rd., Suite 103
Phoenix, Arizona 85021-4915
Telephone: (602) 640-2720
Fax: (602) 640-2730


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 22 July 1997. "Final Rule To Extend Endangered Status for the Jaguar in the United States." Federal Register 62 (140): 39147-39157.


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The jaguar (Panthera onca) is the biggest, most powerful New World member of the cat family. A male jaguar can weigh between 200 and 250 pounds. Although jaguars rarely attack human beings, in folklore they are man-eaters. For many ancient and recent cultures in Latin America, this mighty hunter has symbolized political and military power. The jaguar is also associated with shamans or priests.

For its size and weight, the jaguar has the most powerful bite of any large cat. Its head is flexible, and it has wide-field binocular vision and eye cells that take in all possible light. Its eyes seem mirror-like. Although it prefers moist, lowland, tropical forest, it can survive in many environments. It is a good swimmer, climbs trees, and may sleep in caves or crannies; thus, it fits human symbolic concepts of the levels of the world. Its tawny color makes it a sun symbol in some cultures, and because it hunts at night and seeks dark places, it is also linked to the underworld and the "other" world.

Jaguars are companions and avatars of pre-Columbian gods, whose pictures and statues often include jaguar attributes or show them wearing jaguar skins, although jaguars are rarely gods as such. In the last millennium ce, Olmec art in Mexico and Chavin art in Peru featured jaguar depictions. Later, Classic Maya kings sat on jaguar thrones, wore jaguar-skin garments, and took jaguar names. Jaguar remains have been found in royal Maya burials. On the north coast of Peru, Moche gods had feline fangs, and Moche rulers wore jaguar headdresses. At the time of the Spanish Conquest, the major orders of warriors in Aztec Mexico were named after the jaguar and the eagle. Jaguars were associated with human sacrifice in these cultures. In Toltec sculpture in Mexico, jaguars are shown eating human hearts. South American depictions of a jaguar with a man may be interpreted sometimes as a protector figure, a companion spirit, or alter ego; sometimes as the recipient or agent of human sacrifice; or sometimes as a shaman undergoing initiation.

The words for "jaguar" and "shaman" or "priest" are the same in many indigenous languages. In recent ethnographic literature, accounts of a shaman's transformation into a jaguar to protect his people are widespread. The shaman usually acquires the jaguar's power in ritual by using a psychoactive drug. Jaguar masks, sometimes with mirror eyes, are worn in some regions for special rites. Jaguar teeth or claws are used on shaman's belts or necklaces. Pre-Columbian rulers also had shamanic powers and supernatural aspects and used these to enhance personal power, presumably for the good of their people.

Archaeological objects and recent ethnographic literature suggest that some groups thought of themselves as people or children of the jaguar, with a jaguar ancestor, male or female, in the mythic past. Jaguars are often addressed as father, grandfather, uncle, or mother.

Degradation of the Jaguar's habitat—meaning it has less on which to feed and fewer places to rest and reproduce—has pushed the jaguar toward extinction. Hunting by outdoorsmen and poaching by livestock ranchers have contributed to its decline. Organizations in different countries have classified the jaguar variously as vulnerable, near-threatened, and endangered.

See alsoChavín; LePlongeon, Augustus; Olmecs.


Arroyo, Sergio Raúl. El jaguar prehispánico: Huellas de lo divino. Mexico City/Monterrey, Mexico: INAH/Museo de Historia Mexicana, 2005.

Benson, Elizabeth P., ed. The Cult of the Feline: A Conference in Pre-Columbian Iconography. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections, Trustees for Harvard University, 1972.

Fernández Balboa, Carlos. Yaguar: Guía para conocer y defender al yaguar americano. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Albatros, 1993.

Furst, Peter T. "The Olmec Were-Jaguar Motif in the Light of Ethnographic Reality." In Dumbarton Oaks Conference on the Olmec, edited by Elizabeth P. Benson. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Trustees for Harvard University, 1968.

Rabinowitz, Alan. Jaguar: Struggle and Triumph in the Jungles of Belize. New York: Arbor House, 1986.

Saunders, Nicholas J. People of the Jaguar: The Living Spirit of Ancient America. London: Souvenir Press, 1989.

                                        Elizabeth P. Benson


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Panthera onca

phylum: Chordata

class: Mammalia

order: Carnivora

family: Felidae

status: Near threatened, IUCN Endangered, ESA

range: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, USA, Venezuela

Description and biology

The jaguar is the largest living member of the cat family in North and South America and the third largest in the world. Its coat ranges from yellow-brown to auburn and is covered with black spots and rosettes, or rings, encircling spots. An average adult jaguar has a head and body length of 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) and a tail length of 18 to 30 inches (46 to 76 centimeters). It stands about 2.5 feet (0.7 meter) high at its shoulder and weighs between 100 and 250 pounds (45 and 115 kilograms). Of the big cats, only the jaguar and the snow leopard do not seem to roar.

Jaguars are good swimmers, runners, and tree climbers. Their diet includes fish, frogs, turtles, small alligators, iguanas, peccaries (mammals related to the pig), monkeys, birds,

deer, dogs, and cattle. Jaguars are solitary mammals and are quick to defend their chosen hunting territory. For male jaguars, this territory ranges between 8 and 80 square miles (20 and 207 square kilometers); for females, it ranges between 4 and 27 square miles (10 and 70 square kilometers).

Male and female jaguars come together only to mate. In tropical areas, mating takes place at any time during the year. In areas with cooler climates, jaguars mate in the spring. After a gestation (pregnancy) period of 90 to 110 days, a female jaguar gives birth to a litter of one to four cubs. She raises the cubs on her own, and they may stay with her for up to two years.

Habitat and current distribution

Jaguars are found in parts of Mexico, Central America, South America as far south as northern Argentina, and the southwestern United States. Because the animals are secretive and rare, biologists (people who study living organisms) have not been able to determine the exact number remaining in the wild, but in 1998 it was estimated that the jaguar population in the world was less than 50,000 breeding adults. The largest remaining population of jaguars is believed to live in the Amazonian rain forest.

Jaguars live in a variety of habitats, including tropical and subtropical forests, open woodlands, mangroves, swamps, scrub thickets, and savannas.

History and conservation measures

The jaguar once inhabited areas as far north as the southern United States. It is now extinct over much of its former range. The primary reason for the animal's decline was ruthless hunting, both for sport and for the jaguar's prized coat. In the early to mid-1960s, spotted cat skins were in great demand. International treaties have all but eliminated the commercial trade of cat pelts.

Jaguars now face the threat of habitat destruction. The clearing of forests to build ranches and farms has rapidly eliminated the animals' original habitat. Forced to live next to farmland, jaguars are often killed by farmers because they prey on domestic animals.

Small populations of jaguars are protected in large national parks in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela. Smaller reserves and private ranches in these areas provide protection to isolated pairs or families. The jaguar has been bred successfully in zoos.


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jaguar Spotted big cat found in wooded or grassy areas from sw USA to Argentina. It has a chunky body and a yellowish coat with black rosettes. It eats large mammals, turtles and fish. Length: body to 1.8m (5.9ft); tail to 91cm (35.8in); weight to 136kg (299.8lb). Family Felidae; species Panthera onca.


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jag·uar / ˈjagˌwär/ • n. a large, heavily built cat (Panthera onca) that has a yellowish-brown coat with black spots, found mainly in the dense forests of Central and South America.


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Jaguar 1956

Three men leave their homes in Niger in order to find jobs in the cities. When they return to their village, they bring back with them their experiences. 93m/C VHS . Sabu, Mike Connors, Jay Novello, Barton MacLane; D: George Blair; W: John Fenton Murray, Benedict Freedman; C: Bud Thackery; M: Van Alexander.


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jaguar (Panthera onca) See FELIDAE.


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jaguar XVII. — Tupi-Guarani jaguara.