Jaguar

Jaguar Captured on Motion-Activated Camera

Well-Camouflaged Jaguar Captured on Motion-Activated Camera

No commentary on the animals of Belize can exclude the jaguar.  Likely no other species gets as much press, attention or coverage as Panthera onca.  It’s an apex predator, the subject of myth and legend, the only of the four “big cats” in the Western hemisphere, and a fantastically beautiful animal.

The jaguar has similar coloration to the African leopard, with the jaguar being the bulkier of the two.  Its preference for dense rainforest and affinity for water gives it something in common with the tiger, and makes Belize and the Maya Mountain Massif an ideal habitat.  In fact, the tiny nation of Belize has the highest jaguar population in Central America.

Jaguar Smile (via Wikipedia)

Jaguar Smile (via Wikipedia)

It eats larger herbivores, including deer, tapirs and peccaries.  (However, coordinating in droves of over 70 animals, peccaries have been known to kill jaguars.)  Along riverbanks they eat turtles and fish.  The jaguar’s bite is so powerful it can easily bite through turtle shells.  Jaguars have the strongest bite of any of the big cat species and have capitalized on that with a unique hunting style.  Whereas most felines will attack its prey’s neck in order to suffocate the animal, jaguars are capable of simply biting down on an animal’s head, crushing its prey to death.  Similarly interesting, jaguars have been seen dabbing at the surface of water with their tail.  When eager fish come to investigate, the big cat sweeps them up with their clawed paws!

Jaguars have a menacing growl.  Follow this link to sound files provided by the Belize Zoo.

Jaguar Print

Jaguar Print

Where their habitat borders against that of humans, jaguars have been reported to attack livestock, though not humans.  In fact, the shy creatures rarely come in contact with humans, making any glimpse of them a rare treat.  On our lands we frequently see jaguar tracks, but even our most experienced rangers will claim no more than one sighting over their many years in the bush.

In Belize, jaguars have been a catalyzing species for conservationists.  Considered a keystone species (one whose health is a determinant for the health of other species), they are the subject of significant study.  In 1986, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary was established for the preservation of key jaguar habitat.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that region is currently at carrying capacity for jaguars, though I cannot find a linkable source for that at this time.  Bordering Cockscomb is our very own Bladen Nature Reserve, whose jaguar population is as yet unknown.  We’re currently seeking funding to research this area, which we suspect to have quite a sizeable population.

Camera Trap Flash Makes Interesting Photo Effect

Camera Trap Flash Makes Interesting Photo Effect

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