Mystical South American cat

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2008, 12:00am

Quick Facts

Common name: Jaguar

Scientific name: Panthera onca

Native home: Originally found from the US-Mexico border all the way down to Patagonia, Argentina

Estimated numbers: Less than 50,000 in 2002, but with pelt hunting and forest destruction, current numbers are uncertain.

Size: Males are about 0.8 metres at the shoulder, have bodies between 1.7 to 2.7m long with a 0.6 to 0.9m tail, and weigh 100 to 160 kilograms. Females are about 10 per cent smaller. Jaguars live in jungles, swamps, scrublands and deserts. They are very adaptable animals that run swiftly, climb expertly and swim well.

A hungry jaguar will hunt during the day, but most prefer to eat in the early hours of the morning or after sunset.

These big cats love capybara, a creature that looks like a large guinea pig, and peccary, a type of wild pig. But they'll also eat deer, birds, fish and even the occasional crocodile!

Jaguars that live in forests being cleared for cattle ranches will also eat cows - which is why farmers are not so keen on these cats.

True or False?

Wild jaguars are completely nocturnal.

Male jaguars are twice as big as females.

Jaguars are carnivores.

Home Life

Fill in the gaps with these words: cannibalise, mating, terrains, become adult

Male jaguars have territories between 50 to 80 km? whereas females have ______________ half that size.

A male's territory usually covers that of two to three females. A male avoids females, except during ______________ season, but will fight off other males who try to enter their territory.

Jaguars living in the north of Mexico mate at the end of the year. Those living in the tropics don't have a breeding season.

Females are mature when they are two years old, males ______________ at three or four. Pregnancies last between 93 and 105 days. Litters usually consist of two to four cubs.

The male is not involved in parenting. In fact, if the male hangs around afterwards, the mother may ______________ her own cubs.

Wild jaguars live about 12-15 years while those in zoos may live up to 23 years.

Supernatural Power

Find the synonyms: top, magical, spirit world (supernatural)

Scientists describe the jaguar as an apex predator, meaning it has no enemies capable of killing it - except for us!

In ancient Mesoamerican civilisations, the jaguar's strength and power were often seen as mystical.

The Olmecs, who ruled Mexico between 1200BC and 400BC, believed in 'were-jaguars', powerful shape-shifters that could be human or cat.

The Maya, who ruled Central America between 4AD and 8AD, thought the big cat could cross from our world to the afterlife.

The Aztec, who ruled the region between the 12th and 16th century, regarded the jaguar as royal and worshipped jaguar gods.


Find synonyms for these expressions: limits, destruction of forest, animal that attacks crops or livestock

Just 40 years ago the main threat facing jaguars were hunters. In the 1960s, about 15,000 jaguars were killed for their skins each year.

Restrictions on international trade in jaguar parts and skins started in 1973, but it doesn't mean the animal is safe. Poaching continues and this cat is not protected in Ecuador and Guyana.

Deforestation is also a big problem. A Wildlife Conservation Society study showed 37 per cent of the land traditionally home to jaguars has been destroyed.

Cattle farmers have always seen jaguars as pests and shoot them on sight. But, now that these big cats have become big attractions for eco-tourists, this might stop.

fab fact!

Visit Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens and see Siu Fa, a female jaguar who is now 20 years old. Siu Fa is currently alone but she had offspring in 1991, 1994 and 1997. A dedicated carnivore, her favourite food is beef.

fab fact!

This big cat gets its name from a South American native dialect word yaguar, meaning 'he who kills with one leap'.

fab fact!

The jaguar's image of power means it is a popular symbol. Apart from being used to name sports teams, it's also the name of a popular luxury car, and the national animal of Guyana.


Answer the following questions. To test your memory, try answering without referring to the text. If you can't remember the details, read the piece again.

1. Wild jaguars live in:

a. Sumatra and Borneo

b. Africa and India

c. Central and South America

2. What are young jaguars called?

a. pups

b. cubs

c. kittens

3. How many jaguars are left?

a. about 100,000

b. about 80,000

c. about 50,000

4. Female jaguars mature at:

a. two years

b. four years

c. six years

5. Wild jaguars live up to:

a. 15 years

b. 20 years

c. 25 years

6. Jaguar means:

a. shape-shifter

b. he who kills with one leap

c. spirit world leader


True or False: F, F, T

Fill in the gaps: terrains, mating, become adult, cannibalise

Synonyms: Supernatural Power: apex, mystical, afterlife

Threats: restrictions, deforestation, pest

Quiz: 1. c, 2. b, 3. c, 4. a, 5. a, 6. b