It is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest carnivorous mammal in Central America and South America. The jaguar’s present range extends from Southwestern United States (mainly breeding programmes) and Mexico across much of Central America and south to Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina. One of the best places to see them is the wetlands in the Brazilian Pantanal which is the world’s largest wetland and roughly the size of the UK. Their peak activity is around dawn and dusk although they do hunt during the day if game is available. They can roar although it normally sounds more like a series of deep coughs.
This spotted cat most closely resembles the leopard physically, although it is usually larger and it has a sturdier build and its behavioural characteristics are closer to those of the tiger. Whilst dense rainforest is its preferred habitat, the jaguar can also be found across a variety of forested and open terrains. It has a strong affinity with water and it especially enjoys swimming. It is largely a solitary, opportunistic, stalk and ambush predator at the top of the food chain. It plays an important role in stabilizing ecosystems and regulating the populations of the animals it hunts. The head is robust and it has an exceptionally powerful bite, which allows it to pierce the shells of armoured reptiles.
The female jaguar reaches sexual maturity around two years of age and males at three or four. It is believed to mate throughout the year in the wild, although births may increase when prey is plentiful. Both sexes will roam more wildly during courtship. They separate after mating, and females provide all the parenting. The young are born blind, gaining sight after two weeks. This carnivorous beast has an extremely varied diet and will feed on caiman, capybara, peccary, anaconda, deer, tapir, sloth, monkeys, reptiles and fish. Once they have killed their prey, they like to drag or carry it to an isolated spot. Such is their strength that no animal is considered too large as they are able to swim or even scale a tree while carrying large carcasses often to avoid flood levels.
The jaguar is a near threatened species and its numbers are rapidly declining. It is frequently killed by humans, particularly in conflicts with ranchers and farmers in South America. Continued deforestation and the resulting destruction of their habitat means that a sighting of these remarkable cats is extremely rare.