The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the only Panthera species found in the Americas. 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 South America.
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 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 on fish and other marine animals. Mating can occur year-round, and the female gives birth after a gestation period of 95 to 105 days. The young depend on their mother for about two years.
The jaguar’s present range extends from Southern 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), the cat has largely disappeared from the United States since the early 20th century.
Jaguars are considered endangered animals worldwide. According to an estimate only 5,680 jaguars are left in the wild from South America to New Mexico. They are categorized as endangered animals under the Endangered Species Act. Moreover, the red list of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has categorized them as Near Threatened meaning it may be threatened with extinction in the near future. The loss of parts of its range, including its virtual elimination from its historic northern areas and the increasing fragmentation of the remaining range, have contributed to this status.
The major risks to the jaguar include deforestation across its habitat, increasing competition for food with human beings, poaching, hurricanes in northern parts of its range. The jaguar population may have increased when cattle were first introduced to South America, as the animals took advantage of the new prey base. This willingness to take livestock induced ranch owners to hire full-time jaguar hunters, and the cat is often shot on sight.
World Wildlife Federation (WWF), Defenders of Wildlife, and many other wildlife organizations are deeply concerned about the endangered Jaguar. They are a rare species of animal in the United States, and are included in the federal endangered species list. They have been provided special status by the government of the United States. All possible measures for the protection of the endangered Jaguar are being ensured to prevent them from becoming extinct.