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The jaguar is a big cat, a feline in the Panthera genus, and is the only extant Panthera species native to the Americas.The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in the Americas. The jaguar’s present range extends from Southwestern United States and Mexico across much of Central America and south to Paraguay and northern Argentina.
- Apart from a known and possibly breeding population in Arizona (southeast of Tucson) and the bootheel of New Mexico, the cat has largely been extirpated from the United States since the early 20th century.
- This spotted cat most closely resembles the leopard physically, although it is usually larger and of sturdier build and its behavioral and habitat characteristics are closer to those of the tiger.
- It is a keystone species, playing an important role in stabilizing ecosystems and regulating the populations of the animals it hunts.
- In Mexican Spanish, interestingly, its nickname is el tigre: 16th century Spaniards had no native word in their language for a cat smaller than a lion but bigger than a leopard nor had ever encountered such a creature in the Old World, and so named it after a cat whose ferocity would have only been known to them through Roman writings, popular literature during the Renaissance.
- The jaguar, Panthera onca, is the only extant New World member of the Panthera genus.
- The last taxonomic delineation of the jaguar subspecies was performed by Pocock in 1939.
- The jaguar’s elusive nature and the inaccessibility of much of its preferred habitat make it a difficult animal to sight, let alone study.
- However, the cat will eat any small species that can be caught, including frogs, mice, birds, fish, sloths, monkeys, and turtles; a study conducted in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize, for example, revealed that the diets of jaguars there consisted primarily of armadillos and pacas.
- The jaguar is strongly associated with water, and it often prefers to live by rivers, swamps, and in dense rainforest with thick cover for stalking prey.
- The 1960s had particularly significant declines, with more than 15,000 jaguar skins brought out of the Brazilian Amazon yearly; the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of 1973 brought about a sharp decline in the pelt trade.
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