J a g u a r

Although it is the largest cat in the Americas and the largest predator in the Amazon, the jaguar is increasingly uncommon and rarely seen. It can be found in many habitats, but prefers riverbanks, where it usually sleeps by day and hunts by dusk/night.

The jaguar generally hunts forest floor animals, but can both climb and swim with ease. Its favorite hunting strategy is to lie in wait in branches and pounce on its victim. Jaguars are “searchers,” preying on whatever creatures they come upon, unlike “pursuers” such as the cheetah, who chase down only a few select animals. The jaguar’s major prey includes tapirs, deer, monkeys, and capybara, but it will eat almost any vertebrate. Occasionally, it is able to catch sloths when they make one of their infrequent descents to the forest floor. The heavy jaws and large facial muscles of the jaguar give it one of the most powerful bites of any cat. The most water-loving of the cats, they can cross wide rivers and capture prey in the water. It can eat "tough" prey like caiman and turtles, crunching through the shell. Jaguars are "keystone" predators that help keep populations of prolific rodents like agoutis in balance. “Keystone” species are critically important to others in the community. Their removal causes dramatic changes for other species, altering the balance in the community.

Jaguars have distinctive spots. In the rainforest, this serves as an advantage. The spotted pattern moving through the sun-flecked light and alternating shadow becomes less of an obvious physical outline, thereby disguising the jaguar as it stealthily moves across the forest floor. Jaguars are normally solitary. Still widely distributed in South America, but persecuted as predators by cattle ranchers, they have become extinct or endangered in many local areas.