Jaguar, Panthera onca

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class:  Mammalia

Order:  Carnivora

Family:  Felidae

Genus:  Panthera

Species: onca


Jaguars historically ranged from the southern U.S. (as far north as Berkeley, CA and as far east as Louisiana) throughout the Amazon and Argentina.  Jaguars were hunted for their pelts with approximately 15,000 killed annually in the 1960’s.  13,516 pelts entered the United States in 1968 alone.  Jaguar products became protected by CITES in 1975, significantly slowing the trade.  Jaguars now occupy approximately 46% of their former range.  From 2001-2011, six individuals were photographed with camera traps in limited areas of New Mexico and Arizona.  In April 2012, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a Recovery Outline for the species, demarcating portions of Arizona and New Mexico as “secondary areas.”  Secondary areas are those which have had jaguar activity in recent history and could serve as habitat for individuals dispersing from current range to create new breeding populations.  This Recovery Outline aims to recover and establish suitable jaguar habitat, reduce jaguar-human conflicts, and create international partnerships to manage jaguar populations in the long-term.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Status: Endangered.  International Union for the Conservation of Nature Status: Near Threatened with a decreasing population.


The largest felid in the Americas and 3rd largest in the world, jaguars are heavy-bodied, with large heads, are yellowish or tawny, and are covered with a pattern of dark rings or rosettes with 1 or 2 spots inside.  On the head, legs, and tail, this pattern changes to smaller, solid spots.  Some jaguars are melanistic, with faint rosettes visible.

Habitat and Range

Jaguars are found throughout northern South America, patches of Mexico, and occasionally in southern Arizona and New Mexico, U. S.  In Central and South America, where most jaguars reside, habitat consists of tropical forests and savannas with water in close proximity.  In Mexico and the southern U. S., jaguars inhabit desert scrub and grass lands, but still require some water source.


Jaguars are generalist apex predators, taking prey including fish, birds, mammals, and even caimans.


Females are sexually mature at 3 years of age and males at 4.  Jaguars may breed throughout the year.  Mothers deliver up to 4 cubs following a 100-day gestation.  Cubs stay with the mother for approximately 2 years.


Jaguars require relatively large home territories, though exact size is determined by prey availability, habitat suitability, and topography.  Except when breeding or caring for young, jaguars are generally solitary.  Jaguars readily enter water to cool off in hot weather or in pursuit of prey.  Though good climbers, jaguars are less arboreal than mountain lions and do not necessarily carry their food into trees (this behavior is common to leopards).


  •  Largest felid in the Americas and 3rd largest in the world.
  • Jaguars have powerful jaws.  An adult jaguar can destroy a bowling ball.