Jaguars are the largest of South America's big cats, and are among the most elusive in the world. They usually have orange-brown fur with black spots called 'rosettes' (as they are shaped like roses). Unlike pumas (America's other big cat) jaguars roar, making a sound like a deep chesty cough.
The name jaguar comes from the Native American word yaguar, meaning 'he who kills with one leap', as this is how they tend to hunt. They either pounce from the ground or from up a tree, and use their sharp teeth and powerful jaws to kill their prey with one crushing bite to the skull. They hunt anything from insects to cattle, mainly at dawn or dusk.
Jaguars can be found in a variety of habitats, including deciduous forests, swamps, pampas grasslands and mountain scrub areas. They also like to be near water, as they swim, bathe and even hunt for fish in streams and ponds. Jaguars tend to live alone and mark their territory with their waste or by clawing at trees.
Jaguars once roamed from Argentina all the way up to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but they have now been almost completely eliminated from the USA. However, conservation efforts mean jaguars are far less hunted than they used to be. Efforts have included educating local farmers in the Pantanal in Brazil on the financial benefits of protecting these big cats, rather than killing them, as well as on the benefits of sensitively managed tourism to the area, as part of the Onçafari project.
Where to See Them
The top place we would recommend heading to see jaguars is the Pantanal in Brazil - the largest tropical wetlands in the world. The Onçafari Project here is working to protect jaguars and it is clearly working, in 2017 90% of guests here saw jaguars compared to a paltry 7% in 2012.
Oliver Rodwell, Americas Specialist
A jeep safari in search of jaguars with Onçafari is the most African-style safari you'll come across in Latin America.
- 15 years - Age jaguars can live to in the wild
- 17 stone - Amount male jaguars can weigh
- 94 inches - Rough length from nose to tail