Jaguar

Facts

  • Status
    Near Threatened
  • Scientific Name
    Panthera onca
  • Length
    Up to 6 ft.
  • Habitats
    Forests, Grasslands

Jaguars are mighty cats most easily recognized by the bold rosettes generously spotted across their tawny-colored coats. They have thick, stocky legs and short, round ears. The jaguar has the strongest of all the felines. The name “jaguar” originates from the Tupi and Guarani languages of South America from the word yaguareté, or “true, fierce beast and he who kills in one leap.” The majestic jaguar is a symbol of power for many Latin-American cultures, it represents the power of nature and is seen as the protector of the rainforest.

Jaguars are the third-largest cat in the world and can weigh over 300 pounds. However, their size varies by region, with jaguars in Central America being smaller than those found in the Amazon and the Pantanal. Jaguars are strictly carnivorous and are considered opportunistic hunters, meaning they will prey on almost any animal that crosses their path. Deer, peccaries, tapirs, iguanas, capybaras, armadillos, and monkeys are among the many kinds of animals that fall prey to jaguars. The powerful bite of jaguars makes them excellent hunters; their teeth possess the strength to pierce through crocodile hides and turtle shells. Once jaguars acquire meat for consumption, they use pointy bumps on their tongues, called papillae, to scrape the meat from its bones.

These magnificent cats are distributed from Mexico to Argentina across 18 countries, and Brazil holds around half of the wild jaguars in the world. Their habitats include wet and dry forests, savannahs, and shrublands. Jaguars are strong swimmers and climbers and are dependent on healthy freshwater systems and access to great amounts of territory for survival.

International wildlife trade talks lead to more protections for animals

This year’s conference concluded with several positives for wildlife with new and renewed global protections against poaching, illegal, and unsustainable trade in wild animals and plants that could help reverse trends driving the loss of global biodiversity.

A large leatherback turtle sits on the beach with the ocean behind it

Why They Matter

  • Jaguars play an important role in maintaining the structure and function of the ecosystems they inhabit. As top predators, they help to keep a balance in the food chain where they live, playing an important role in controlling the populations of other species and promoting healthy ecosystems. Therefore, a jaguar-focused conservation strategy can serve as an effective umbrella for a suite of co-occurring species.

Threats

  • Extinction Risk Near Threatened
    1. EX
      Extinct

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN
      Endangered

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU
      Vulnerable

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened

A jaguar in the forest

Human-Wildlife Conflict

Due to diminishing territory and, thus, diminishing access to natural prey, jaguars have begun to look elsewhere for food. Livestock living on the lands that jaguars once inhabited often become meals for hungry jaguars, who are forced to feed on these domesticated animals in lieu of their natural prey. As a result, they become victims to farmers who might kill them in retaliation or in a preventative attempt to protect their income.

Habitat Destruction and Fragmentation

Jaguars are apex predators mainly active during the night and require a large amount of territory to survive. Unfortunately, deforestation and agricultural activities have been encroaching on jaguar territory, slowly shrinking the range of jaguars and isolating populations from one another. It is estimated that jaguars have lost approximately 50% of their historic range, with a 20% decline in a period of just 14 years, and have gone extinct in El Salvador and Uruguay.

Their habitats are becoming increasingly fragmented, meaning patches of habitat are decreasing in size and becoming increasingly isolated and less connected. The lands once ruled by jaguars are being destroyed by logging, large-scale agriculture, ranchland, and urban areas. Habitat fragmentation makes it incredibly difficult for these felines to hunt and mate, which poses a major threat to their population numbers and survival.

Illegal Wildlife Trade

The illegal trade in jaguar pelts and parts has played a large role in their population decline over time. In the 1960s, around 15,000 jaguar pelts were sold annually in the Brazilian Amazon to supply international markets in North America and Europe. The hunting of jaguars for pelts was not officially outlawed until the 1970s when national and international protections were put in place prohibiting the hunting and sale of jaguars and their parts. 

Since then, international demand for jaguar parts, particularly jaguar pelts, has reduced considerably. However, illegal domestic markets for jaguar body parts remain, posing a considerable threat to the species. This market is largely driven by opportunistic encounters between people and jaguars, human-jaguar conflict, and cultural practices surrounding jaguar use. In recent years, seizures of jaguar teeth at airports and post offices across Latin America and abroad have suggested a re-emergence of international trade in jaguar parts, raising the alarm around the devastating impacts of trade on jaguar populations. In addition, advances in technology and connectivity have led to an increased ease of buyers and sellers connecting globally online, further facilitating the illegal trade in jaguar products. 

A new series of decisions aimed at eliminating jaguar poaching and trafficking, including online trade, were approved at CITES COP19 in 2022. CITES—a treaty signed by 184 nations to support sustainable trade in wildlife and plants while protecting endangered species. The decisions call for enhanced stakeholder engagement and collaboration, the establishment of conservation corridors, strengthened cooperation mechanisms, increased investments into the conservation of the jaguar, including its habitat, and raising awareness about the importance of this apex predator, its ecological role, and the threats it faces. 

What WWF Is Doing

A jaguar in the forest

WWF works to protect jaguars from extinction in cooperation with local communities, range state governments, and various partners. In 2020, WWF launched its Regional Jaguar Strategy with an ambitious goal to increase or stabilize jaguar populations, prey base, habitat, and connectivity by 2030. The strategy defines 15 WWF Jaguar Priority Landscapes, where it aims to secure jaguar strongholds, build connectivity, stop jaguar killings, catalyze cooperation, and create enabling conditions such as sustainable financing and political will.

In order to achieve this goal, WWF works:

  • at the local landscape level by conducting jaguar monitoring, promoting best practices in productive landscapes, managing human-jaguar conflict, reducing jaguar killings, and contributing to improved management in protected areas;
  • at the national level by engaging the public and mainstreaming jaguar conservation across different sectors;
  • and at the international level by promoting long-term and large-scale finance for jaguar conservation and international cooperation.

WWF strives to ensure local communities are engaged in and benefit from conservation. WWF prioritizes raising awareness about the importance of recovering jaguars and their habitat for the benefit of nature and people.

WWF also works with e-commerce, social media, and technology companies through the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online to address the trade of jaguars and their parts and other wildlife crimes on web-based platforms. Launched in 2018, the Coalition includes 47 member companies operating across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

Projects

  • Photos from Camera Traps in the Amazon

    The Amazon's lush forests are home to a stunning variety of life. WWF has captured images of the some of the region's magnificent species – from jaguars to armadillos.

Experts

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