Wonderful Jaguars and Panthers
The jaguar is a big cat, a feline in the Panthera genus, and is the only Panthera species found in the Americas. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The jaguar’s present range extends from Southern United States and Mexico across much of Central America and south to Paraguay and northern Argentina. Apart from a known and possibly breeding population in Arizona (southeast of Tucson), the cat has largely been extirpated from the United States since the early 20th century.
This spotted cat most closely resembles the leopard physically, although it is usually larger and of sturdier build and its behavioural and habitat characteristics are closer to those of the tiger. While dense rainforest is its preferred habitat, the jaguar will range across a variety of forested and open terrains. 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 largely a solitary, opportunistic, stalk-and-ambush predator at the top of the food chain (an apex predator). It is a keystone species, playing an important role in stabilizing ecosystems and regulating the populations of the animals it hunts. The jaguar has 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 bite to the brain.
The jaguar is a near threatened species and its numbers are declining. Threats include loss and fragmentation of habitat. While international trade in jaguars or their parts is prohibited, the cat is still frequently killed by humans, particularly in conflicts with ranchers and farmers in South America. Although reduced, its range remains large; given its historical distribution, the jaguar has featured prominently in the mythology of numerous indigenous American cultures, including that of the Maya and Aztec.
The jaguar is a compact and well-muscled animal. Size and weight vary considerably: weights are normally in the range of 56–96 kg (124–211 lb). Larger males have been recorded to weigh as much as 160 kg (350 lb) (roughly matching a tigress or lioness), and the smallest females have low weights of 36 kg (79 lb). Females are typically 10–20% smaller than males. The length, from the nose to the base of the tail, of the cats varies from 1.2 to 1.95 m (3.9 to 6.4 ft). Their tails are the shortest of any big cat, at 45 to 75 cm (18 to 30 in) in length. Their legs are also short, considerably shorter when compared to a small tiger or lion in a similar weight range, but are thick and powerful. The jaguar stands 63 to 76 cm (25 to 30 in) tall at the shoulders. Compared to the similar coloured Old World leopard, this cat is bigger, heavier and relatively stocky in build.
Further variations in size have been observed across regions and habitats, with size tending to increase from the north to south. A study of the jaguar in the Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve on the Mexican Pacific coast, showed ranges of just about 50 kg (110 lb), about the size of the cougar. By contrast, a study of the jaguar in the Brazilian Pantanal region found average weights of 100 kg (220 lb), and weights of 136 kilograms (300 lb) or more are not uncommon in old males. Forest jaguars are frequently darker and considerably smaller than those found in open areas (the Pantanal is an open wetland basin), possibly due to the smaller numbers of large, herbivorous prey in forest areas.
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