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The Secretive Life of Panthera onca

Desiree Michels

Visitors: 160

While dedicated Jaguar holidays afford participants the privileged opportunity of a face-to-face encounter with the magnificent Panthera onca, due to their extreme secrecy and solitary nature there is much we have yet to discover about them.

An Ongoing Study

Conservationists have been studying the big cat with some intensity since the 1970s, when it became obvious that due to loss of habitat (mainly due to human intervention) their numbers were declining in dramatic proportions. A number of dedicated initiatives combined with increasing levels of eco-tourism through Jaguar holidays have seen a much-needed boost in the big cat’s profile.

In terms of conservation, the more we learn, the more attention will be brought to the importance of nurturing the Jaguar’s survival, so scientists and researchers continue their vital work to unlock the mysteries of this iconic animal’s life. Here’s some of what we do know.

An Elusive Apex Predator

The big cat’s range once extended from the southernmost regions of South America right up through Mexico and into the USA. Today, the bulk of the surviving population is found in South and Central America, within the remote area known as the Amazon Basin.

The big cat will establish a territory in a diverse range of habitats, which includes mountainous scrub, tropical rainforests, sparser deciduous forests, grasslands and wetland swamp areas.

The dry season in the 58,000 square miles of the Brazilian Pantanal is the most successful time for Jaguar holidays because, like the rest of the prolific wildlife of this diverse habitat, the normally elusive big cat is often found around rivers and waterholes hunting, resting or searching for a potential mate. Their excellent swimming skills enable them to hunt in the water for fish, turtles and caimans, supplementing their diet of larger mammals.

A stalk and ambush predator, Panthera onca has one of the strongest bites in the animal kingdom. Its powerful jaw is able to crush the skull of its prey in one lethal movement and it is the only big cat to kill in this way. Their teeth are so strong and sharp they are even able to pierce the armour of an Armadillo and their varied diet consists of at least 85 recorded species.

Unlike many other mammals, the female Jaguar is fertile all throughout the year. Mating can occur at any time when a female is in estrus, and they alert males to their fertility through a combination of scent marking and vocalising.

Paternal infanticide is not uncommon among the species, so once the female has given birth she will not tolerate the presence of any males. She will defend her litter aggressively, even against the father should he appear.

Research gained through individual identification by camera trap data has shown that male offspring generally establish their territories a long way from their siblings and mother. Scientists believe this could be an inherent way of reducing the possibility of inbreeding and therefore weakening the genetic makeup of the species.

Joining the Conversation About Conservation

For wildlife enthusiasts who embark on Jaguar holidays to enjoy the thrill of a sighting of this magnificent apex predator on the move, it may be hard to comprehend the gravity of its tenuous survival. However, the ’near threatened’ status of this beautiful animal is a direct result of habitat loss through human encroachment and hunting. Through research, education, eco-tourism and the continued efforts of conservationists, it’s hoped that this worrying trend can be reversed before it’s too late.

Author Plate

Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Jaguar watching. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led Jaguar holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.


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