Often mistaken for the leopard, the jaguar is a beautifully spotted cat with a more massive and powerful build and noticeably larger head. It is the largest cat in the Americas. Adults can grow up to three feet in height and four feet in body length. The tail can reach up to 30 inches. Adult females can weigh up to 200 lb and males can weigh up to 250 lb. Their fur is tan in color with black rings and dots, and jaguars with completely black coats are not uncommon.
The jaguar is mainly a forest dweller and seems to prefer lowland rain forest for its habitat. It can also thrive in dry woodland and grassland, and it is rarely found in areas above 8000 feet. The jaguar prefers to hunt on the ground and eats deer and small mammals such as peccaries and otters. Also, jaguars are excellent swimmers and can thrive eating fish and other marine reptiles and amphibians. Mating can occur year-round, and the female gives birth to one to four cubs after a gestation period of 95 to 105 days. The young depend on their mother for about two years.
Jaguar populations once spanned from the southern United States down to the tip
of South America, but today populations center on the north and central parts of
Estimating jaguar numbers is difficult, due to the inaccessibility
of much of the species' range.
Populations have declined mainly due to hunting for its beautiful coat in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, habitat loss due to the clearing of forest is the main threat, and some poaching still occurs. Jaguars also kill domestic animals and are killed by farmers who consider them a nuisance. The jaguar is now fully protected throughout most of its range, and hunting is prohibited in several countries. The species also occurs in several protected areas of its range.
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