Jaguar Fang necklace with text: "Mitigating Threats to Jaguar Conservation" Jaguar with text: "Background on Jaguars"
Jaguar with Text: "Stories" Jaguar brochure with Text: "Resources"

Jaguars

Jaguars are the largest species of cat in the Western Hemisphere. Recognized for their strength, stealth, and power, these large cats have inspired legends, influenced cultures, and are still popular symbols for cities, sports teams, and companies. Despite being so emblematic, jaguars are also under serious threat.

Habitat loss, wildlife trafficking, collisions with vehicles, and retaliatory killings by landowners and ranchers who fear that jaguars will kill their livestock have significantly lowered the population numbers of jaguars and threaten them with eventual extinction.

In recent years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service International Affairs Program has been at the forefront of supporting jaguar conservation efforts throughout their range in Mexico, Central America, and South America. In the past four years alone, we have supported 23 projects in ten countries with over $1 million in funding. When jaguar habitat is conserved, many other species directly benefit.

Many of the projects we support, in addition to providing incentives to protect habitat, seek to alleviate fears about jaguars in communities through education. They also frequently provide landowners with concrete strategies and methods that reduce conflict in such a way that they and jaguars can peacefully co-exist. Landowners are better able to protect their livelihoods and economic interests, while also helping to protect jaguars. They achieve these goals by discouraging jaguars to come into contact with their livestock, by reforesting surrounding areas, and by helping to maintain their natural prey populations. Based on project reporting to date, most landowners who employ jaguar-friendly ranching techniques see a dramatic reduction in attacks and subsequent livestock mortality. A project in Paraguay has reduced cattle mortality from jaguar attacks by 80-100% at 12 intervened sites that cover an area more than 770 square miles. Another project in the Maya Biosphere of Guatemala has reduced cattle mortality from jaguar attacks by approximately 70% at 283 properties, covering about 11,603 hectares of land now under improved management.

Background on Jaguars

A croaching jaguar. Credit:

Credit: Douglas Trent / Creative Commons

african-elephant-large-herd

The historic and current range of jaguars.
Credit: IUCN Red List / Creative Commons

Historic and Current Range


The most recent scientific assessment from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species indicates that the current range of jaguars is about 51% of their historic range. Jaguars once lived as far north as the states of New Mexico and Arizona and as far south as Argentina. While there are some recent individual jaguars who have crossed into the United States from Mexico, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has completed a draft recovery plan, most jaguar conservation efforts are focused on protecting the remaining strongholds for jaguars throughout their range. These areas are sometimes referred to as “Jaguar Conservation Units” (JCUS) and when possible, connect sub-populations by corridors so that the genetic diversity of jaguar populations remains robust. While jaguars tend to live in habitat or areas with dense cover in locations like the Amazon of South America and Maya Forest of Central America, they can also live in arid, desert-like environments such as the Sonoran Desert of Mexico. Additional habitat types include the grasslands of South America’s Gran Chaco, and wetland and river areas in places such as South America’s aforementioned Amazon, as well as its Pantanal region.

Appearance


Jaguars tend to be best known for their yellow, orange, and tan coats, but can sometimes have a range of color variations that include red, brown, and white. A few are occasionally black. They have big heads, large bodies, and a long tail. The other large cat they are probably most often confused with are leopards. Leopards live in Africa and Asia and look similar in appearance to jaguars, especially because of the markings on their fur, called rosettes. The two species can easily be differentiated in most photos, however, not only when the location is known, but because jaguars have spots within their rosettes. Cougars (also known as pumas, mountain lions, or catamounts) live in the Americas, and while they are large cats, they are generally not quite as large as jaguars. They also do not have rosettes.

Diet, Behavior, Reproduction, and Lifespan


A jaguar rests in a tree. Credit: Advocat / Creative Commons license

A jaguar rests in a tree. Credit: Advocat / Creative Commons license

Jaguars are carnivores, and while they focus on attacking larger prey such as deer, peccaries, or caiman, one study found that they eat at least 86 different species of animals. They use a powerful, crushing bite to the skull in most cases to disable their prey when attacking. In some locations, jaguars will even swim and use this skill to stalk their prey (watch a video of this behavior). Jaguars lean more toward being described as nocturnal animals, but can be active during the day as well. Sometimes they will rest or hunt from trees.

They mate throughout the year and the gestation period for pregnant females is slightly more than 3 months. Jaguars give birth most often to two cubs, but sometimes up to four. Cubs will stay with their mothers for about 1-2 years before dispersing and seeking their own territories. Territories for male jaguars are large, do not overlap, and can be about 20 -30 square miles depending on the locality. Female territories are generally about half the size of male territories, and can overlap with male territories.

The lifespan of jaguars is estimated to last between 12 – 15 years.

Official Conservation Status of Jaguar

Endangered Species Act: Listed as “Endangered”
International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List: Listed as “Near Threatened”
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna: Appendix I

Mitigating Threats to Jaguar Conservation


A group of jaguars on a shoreline. Credit: Douglas Trent / Creative Commons
Credit: Douglas Trent / Creative Commons

The survival of jaguars is uncertain because of three primary threats: habitat and prey loss, wildlife trafficking (illegal sale of jaguar fangs, hides, and cubs), and retaliatory killings. Through projects with our partners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service attempts to address these daunting threats to jaguars.

Protecting Jaguar Habitat

As human populations grow, there are increasing pressures on habitat for jaguars and other wildlife. Most alarming are deforestation, mining, and cattle ranching operations that are taking place both on an industrial and small-scale basis within designated conservation areas such as national parks. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supports projects that bolster protective actions and patrols by park rangers and guards throughout the Western Hemisphere. We also support projects that provide economic alternatives for communities to adopt jaguar friendly agroforestry, cattle ranching, and ecotourism practices that directly address the needs of people to support themselves and their families while conserving habitat and wildlife.

Combating the Trafficking of Jaguars and their Body Parts

Jewelry made from jaguar teeth and claws. Credit: Sarah Metzer / USFWS

Jewelry made from jaguar teeth and claws.
Credit: Sarah Metzer / USFWS

Wildlife trafficking impacts many species of animals and plants, but recent reports suggest that jaguars are now being targeted more frequently for their teeth / fangs, which are desired in countries like China for use in jewelry as talismans or as status symbols. It’s thought that jaguars are filling in some of the demand for tiger parts which are now less available than they were previously because of increased protection efforts. Jaguar furs are also sold frequently.

All of these activities are illegal, and commercial trade in jaguars and their parts is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna. Throughout the Western Hemisphere the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service International Affairs Program supports local and regional efforts to build awareness about the threat posed by wildlife trafficking to threatened species, and also increase law enforcement training and capacity to combat trafficking. For instance, in Peru, we have supported the development and implementation of a national strategy to combat wildlife trafficking. Our partners throughout the Americas are increasingly aware of the threat that trafficking poses, and are collecting information and taking initiative to educate communities about the threat that trafficking poses to jaguars and many other wildlife species.

Working with Landowners, Ranchers, and Communities to Adopt Jaguar-Friendly Practices

Most of the projects that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service International Affairs Program supports for jaguar conservation are about cultivating partnerships with landowners, ranchers, and communities to adopt jaguar-friendly practices. One project we are supporting in Mexico aims to help prevent wildlife-vehicle collisons by educating drivers about wildlife-friendly driving practices and by working with the Department of Transportation to construct road features such as underpasses and overpasses. These actions can help protect jaguars and other species that cross the road.

Most projects, however, focus on preventing retaliatory killings of jaguars that attack cattle. These killings are frequent throughout the jaguar’s range. The loss of even one cow or animal can be devastating to the livelihoods of ranchers, so it’s easy to understand why jaguars can be viewed as an enemy to be feared. Fortunately, many of the jaguar-friendly practices that are being employed by landowners and ranchers are proving to be effective and affordable. In some cases, ranchers see increased income due to improved livestock health or receiving payments from their local governments for reforestation work on their ranches.

Conflict mitigation practices and tactics include:

  • Installing electric fences
  • Installing motion-detector LED lights, powered by solar panels
  • Having cows wear cowbells
  • Placing donkeys within a herd
  • Placing specific species of cows within a herd that are down to not tolerate jaguars
  • Placing buffalo with a herd
  • Creating separated water sources for jaguars and domesticated animals
  • Offering nutritional blocks for cattle to feed on, eliminating the need for them to graze in remote areas where they are susceptible to attacks
  • Storing nutritional supplements for livestock that allow for them to not become weakened during the dryer seasons
  • Improving fencing and installing more secure night pens / facilities for livestock, especially calves
  • Paying ranchers to install camera traps on their properties and document jaguars and other wildlife
  • Locating grazing areas farther from natural habitat for jaguars
  • Training land owners on the use of Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART)-based patrolling, computer use, and data entry.
  • Teaching ranchers how to identify, document, and respond to jaguar attacks on cattle so that they can be compensated for their losses.
  • Maintaining an abundant and diverse natural pretty base in the vicinity of ranches

Based on project reporting to date, most landowners who employ jaguar-friendly ranching techniques see a dramatic reduction in attacks and subsequent livestock mortality. The most effective techniques, however, can vary based on geography and local circumstances. Read about a successful partnership to alleviate jaguar-human conflict in Paraguay.

Educational efforts are also typically part of the jaguar conservation projects we support. Public events, school programs, radio programs, workshops, and campaigns that include signs, posters, and educational brochures are distributed that help people to better understand jaguars and – rather than fear them– instead view them as a source of pride and part of their national heritage In Mexico, one project included a substantial educational component and reached over 1,200 kids with fun activities that were incorporated into a toolkit that was distributed to zoos and school educators.

Stories


Jaguar with text: "Supporting Co-existence with Paraguay's Majestic Jaguars"
Jaguar swimming with text: "Five Cools Facts about Jaguars"

 


Video: Jaguars Forever (English Version)


Video: Jaguares Para Siempre (Version en Espanol)

Jaguar image with text "Rancheros Del Jaguar"


Video: Rancheros Del Jaguar



Video: Así se protege a los jaguares en Guatemala

 

Resources

 

El Yaguarete Guide to Jaguar-Friendly Ranching

Produced by the Wildlife Conservation Society in Paraguay, this publication is in Spanish and provides information about the importance of jaguars as well as specific jaguar-friendly ranching concepts.

Cover of the publication El Yaguarete.

 

Jaguares Para Siempre Brochure

Produced by the Wildlife Conservation Society in Guatemala, this brochure is in Spanish and provides information to ranchers about the Jaguars Para Siempre campaign.

Jaguares Para Siempre Brochure