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Species of the Day – Jaguar (Panthera onca)

December 17, 2012

Species of the Day - Jaguar (Panthera onca)

Jaguar is the largest cat of the Americas, and the only living representative of the genus Panthera found in the New World and the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion. Historically it ranged from the southwestern US (where there are still some vagrants close to the Mexican border) through the Amazon basin to the Rio Negro in Argentina. Its stronghold is the rainforest of the Amazon basin.

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. 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. Jaguar populations are rapidly declining; some of the most important areas for jaguar conservation (Jaguar Conservation Units) fell within parts of jaguar range where probability for long-term survival was considered low, and so represent the most endangered jaguar populations.

Jaguar is considered Near Threatened due to the high deforestation rates are high in Latin America and fragmentation of forest habitat isolates jaguar populations so that they are more vulnerable to human persecution .People compete with jaguars for prey, and jaguars are frequently shot on sight, despite protective legislation. Jaguars are also known to kill cattle, and are killed by ranchers as pest species. The vulnerability of the jaguar to persecution is demonstrated by its disappearance by the mid-1900’s from the south-western US. loss of parts of its range, including its virtual elimination from its historic northern areas and the increasing fragmentation of the remaining range, have contributed to this status.

The 1960s had particularly significant declines, with more than 15,000 jaguar skins brought out of the Brazilian Amazon yearly; the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of 1973 brought about a sharp decline in the pelt trade. Commercial hunting and trapping of jaguars for their pelts has declined drastically since the mid-1970’s, when anti-fur campaigns and CITES controls progressively shut down international markets. However, although hunting has decreased there is still demand for jaguar paws, teeth and other products. Jaguars are included on CITES Appendix I. The jaguar is fully protected at the national level across most of its range, with hunting prohibited in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, United States, and Venezuela, and hunting restrictions in place in Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru.

Jaguar is generally defined as an umbrella species – its home range and habitat requirements are sufficiently broad that, if protected, numerous other species of smaller range will also be protected. Umbrella species serve as “mobile links” at the landscape scale, in the jaguar’s case through predation. Conservation organizations may thus focus on providing viable, connected habitat for the jaguar, with the knowledge other species will also benefit. With habitat fragmentation a major threat, and taxonomic research suggesting little significant differences among jaguar populations, an ambitious program has been launched to conserve a continuous north to south habitat corridor through the species range. To facilitate this, a new project, the Paseo del Jaguar, has been established to connect several jaguar hotspots.


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