By Annette J Beveridge
Jaguars (panthera onca) are enigmatic animals. With an unusually large round head, a stunning coat and long tail, jaguars are muscled, compact and distinctive. They have shorter legs than other Panthera species of a similar weight. In the Americas, it is the largest species of cat and has the most powerful bite comparative to its size which enables it to bite through the skull of mammalian prey.
Jaguars are the third largest feline after tigers and lions and are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are classified as near threatened. An investigation into the population recorded a loss of almost 1500 animals. Here’s why.
Prime habitat for jaguars
Prime habitat has reduced substantially. Approximately, 40% of habitat loss has occurred due to logging, farming, and wild fires. This has a significant impact on these big cats. Jaguar territories are becoming much smaller and fragmented and this makes them vulnerable to poachers. Dense forest cover is important but jaguars will live in swamp areas and in the driest scrub woodland.
An investigation covering the period August 2016-December 2019 specified the displacement or death of almost 1500 jaguars. The findings are published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice.
Jaguar habitat is often converted into cropland but this also enables poachers to access into the forest. As there are low densities of these big cats with territories usually stretching over a considerable range, they are particularly vulnerable.
Jaguars typically live close to water and are good swimmers, preying on any animal they encounter including monkeys, lizards and even, turtles. They hunt day and night and have exceptional night vision. They are stalk-and-ambush predators and opportunistic when it comes to finding prey. Keystone predators, they help to stabilise ecosystems and regulate prey species populations and are at the top of the food chain.
The information within the report is important and concerning. We know that the loss of habitat poses a very real threat to the ongoing success of this species. Farming, wildfires or logging does not just impact the jaguar but affects prey species too and this places additional pressure on jaguars to find food. As a result, they may venture closer to livestock which could lead to serious conflict with people.
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