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Jaguar: Big cats of the rain forest

 

Jaguars are the largest of South America's big cats. These beautiful and powerful beasts were prominent in ancient Native American cultures. The name jaguar is derived from the Native American word yaguar, which means "he who kills with one leap." While they look a lot like leopards, there are ways to tell them apart. Jaguars are stockier and heavier, with shorter, thicker tails. They have dark spots on their backs, called rosettes, with an irregular broken border and often a spot in the center. If you  look closely at the Leopards rosettes, you will that there is no spot in the center of the rosette. Most jaguars have tawny-colored fur with black rosettes, but some have black-on-black, or melanistic, coloration. Usually the ones that are found in darker rain forest areas are black.

 

So, are they black panthers? No, there is no such animal! “Panther” is just an old general term that comes from the Panthera animal grouping name, and is sometimes used to describe leopards, jaguars, and pumas.

 

Jaguars stalk and ambush their ground-dwelling prey at night, instead of chasing it like cheetahs and lions do. They can run pretty quickly, but do not rely on this skill. Their large jaw muscles allow them to kill their prey by piercing the skull with their sharp teeth. This allows them to eat spectacled caimans and hard-shelled reptiles like turtles and tortoises. Researchers have counted over 85 species in their diet. With less and less wild prey available, they have started feeding on livestock. Ranchers often trap and poison them in hopes of reducing the amount of livestock they lose. Deforestation due to logging, mining, and farming, which breaks up their habitat into fragments, leaving less food and fewer mates are also great threats to their survival.

 

They once lived throughout the Americas, from northern Arizona to sounthern Argentina. But hunting and forest clearing has reduced their numbers and forced them out of their habitat into interaction with  man. Belize  has one of the healthiest  populations in Central America, and is protected from hunting throughout Belize. They are also found throughout Belize in the lowland forests  and along the coasts. They once  roamed from the southern tip of that continent north to the region surrounding the U.S.-Mexico border. With very few sighting ever in the US in the last 50 years. Today significant numbers are found only in remote regions of South and Central America—particularly in the Amazon basin.

Like Tigers and Leopards, Jaguars are good swimmers and seldom avoid water. Rivers provide prey in the form of fish, turtles, and caimans—small, alligator like animals. Jaguars also eat larger animals such as deer, peccaries, capybaras, and tapirs. They sometimes climb trees to prepare an ambush, killing their prey with one powerful bite. Jaguars hunt mainly on the ground and mainly at night. Its food consists of everything from mice to birds to tapir. Its favorite food in Belize is probably the warrie, which lives in abundance throughout the Jaguars habitat.