Top Ten Cats #7 – Jaguar, Panthera onca

A nice close-up shot of one of the Jaguars at UK’s Chester Zoo. Note the broad head, with bulging muscles at the top, helping the jaguar have its extraordinary bite! (Credit: © Copyright Jeff Buck)

Content Warning: This article contains images of animal predation.

I left this one up to the community and your voices were heard.

They were completely silent. Thanks, guys.

So given how I feel you basically stuck your teeth on my skull and bit a hole in it, I put a cat in this place that can literally bite a hole in your skull.

I’m not kidding. Possibly the most powerful bite of all the extant feline species, maybe the strongest there’s ever been, the Jaguar has strong paws, claws and jaws mainly evolved to make short work of thick-skinned reptile prey but, as a result, unlike other cats whose kill-method for other mammals tends to be constriction of the throat, a jaguar will just bite between the ears to make its prey brain-dead in an instant.

That. Is. Fucking. Awesome.

Sorry to anyone who is sensitive to animals eating other animals. I want to say I respect your opinion but I don’t. I understand it. I understand where it comes from. But there is no morality in what a jaguar is doing. A jaguar does not understand infliction of suffering. If anything their method of killing prey is quicker and more merciful than many other cats.

I am a filthy, cynical appreciator of the cruelties and savage beauty of nature. I am, intra-specifically a relative pacifist. That is to say I believe most problems between humans can be solved without violence or murder, although there may come a time when extreme action is warranted. When it comes to totally unnecessary human killing of animals I am massively against it. I think hunting for sport is disgusting.  

Nature’s cruelty to nature? Predator-prey interactions? Predators themselves? That is a different matter. Excluding autotrophs (things that can obtain energy without needing other life – there are basically only some plants and bacteria capable of this) all things consume life to sustain their own lives; from the cute little bunny eating living plant cells, to a jaguar putting its teeth through the brain of a deer.

A jaguar tugging on a tapir carcass. Whether this specific jaguar killed it or not is unknown but given they are the apex predator, the top of the food chain, in their habitat, it was likely killed by a jaguar. With prey the size of tapir, jaguar are known to the use the throat-throttle technique that other big cats tend to use, rather than crushing its skull (Credit: Emilio White/Proyecto Yaguarte)

I like predators. They grind. They have to work hard for what they want. I understand that. They have to be smart, they have to develop equipment and technique, claws and speed, teeth and stealth, so that they can survive. Predators are right up my street and as far as felids go there aren’t many more badass than the jag.

I compare a later cat to a Lamborghini (guess which one?) well a Jaguar is all-American muscle, it’s a drag racer. It has big engines and big power, it is all torque, screeching tyres and rubber-smoke.

It’s a bulky cat, the only pantherine in the Americas, since the other ‘big’ cat there, the Puma, is – as discussed in the jaguarundi article – an acinonychine. It’s the top of the food chain in its habitat, basically nothing eats jaguar, it’s sacred to many of the indigenous people of the region, it’s a keystone species (that means it plays a massive role in ensuring a stable ecosystem, e.g. by preventing overpopulation of their prey species, which could prevent new forest growth) it’s solitary, it has a gorgeous coat, amazing form and figure – and we’re talking close to my other most beautiful cat, the Lamborghini of cats we’ll get to later in the list.

In fact the only reason the jaguar is so low is because there are cats that are historically or culturally more significant or that I have more personal experiences regarding. If this was a purely objective list jaguar is top five.

It’s also a semi-aquatic jungle ninja! Did I even mention that? It’s gorgeous colouring (very similar to the African Leopard, an example of convergent evolution, where species independently develop similar solutions to similar environmental problems) might look striking when it’s in a zoo in drizzly Norfolk or you get a photo at the right angle but when you’re on the dense forest floor, mottled by greys, blacks, greens and the golden beams of sunlight, roots and their shadows forming rings among the dazzling lights – It’s practically invisible, even in daylight.

Convergent evolution in action. Two cats, two continents, two very similar designs. One is a jaguar, the other is a leopard. Can you tell which is which? One tell-tale sign is to remember what I’ve talked about in terms of jaw power. (Credits: Charles J. Sharp and Gerard Mendis)

That’s before we even get on to the propensity for melanism in the population. Melanism is a genetic mutation that causes an over-abundance of the pigment ‘melanin’ in skin or hair tissues. Basically it makes things black – from moths to people.

A little anti-racist aside. Want to know what makes people of African origin so dark? Their relative levels of exposure to intense radiation from the sun. Did you know the darker you are the more likely your ancestry is from around the African equatorial region, where that radiation is most intense? Moving outwards, north or south, from the equator, people’s skin tends to get lighter the further from the equator you are. The level of melanin in your skin is literally directly proportional to the closeness of your immediate genetic ancestors having lived nearer the equator.

Racists – that’s what you’re fighting about! White supremicists literally think people are inferior to them because, even though they are of the same species, with the same relative potentials, one of them has ancestry closer to equatorial Africa than another of them. You literally claim superiority based upon an evolutionary adaptation to increased radiation from the sun…

Racists, you’re fucking stupid.

Brief aside over, melanistic jaguars (sometimes called ‘black panthers, like their African brethren the menalistic leopard – not confusing at all!) PHWOAR! You didn’t think the jaguar could get better? How about one in shadow form? Actually one of the prettiest animals on the planet full stop, never mind cats, if they weren’t a rare mutated colour morph they’d be number one just on that look alone.

Zoya, the regular coloured jaguar, and her boyfriend Chico, the melanistic jaguar, displaying their affections at Győr Zoo in Hungary (Credit: Tambako The Jaguar)

Enough admiration, let’s get back to facts. Their range extends through the southernmost tip of North America (yes, there are jaguars in the USA!), through Central America and into South America. Genetic analysis suggests it is most closely related to lions (a little unexpected) and leopards (ya really couldn’t tell? – that’s sarcasm.)

They exhibit ‘sexual dimorphism’ – difference in bodies between males and females – mainly related to size. Females, on average, are around 20% smaller and lighter than their male counterparts who can be up to 100kg in weight, and they are stocky, too – around 2-2.5 meters in length from nose-tip-to-tail-tip. For that weight, that makes it a hefty cat.

This makes it very well adapted for what it does, jumping, climbing, slinking, swimming, killing and looking pretty. Its prey preference is capybara and giant anteater, but as mentioned before they’ll eat lots – caiman, peccary, agouti and its bite is even powerful enough to crack a turtle.

KITTEN TAX! A baby jaguar at San Diego Zoo, USA. You may notice the abundance of photos of jaguars from zoo. This is for a couple of reasons. One) many of the wild ones are done by very legit photographers and are copyrighted to shit and two) that’s if they get lucky enough to see them! (Credit: Nathan Rupert)

It is listed as near-threatened by the IUCN, despite an international trade ban on jaguar and jaguar parts. The main threats to the species are habitat loss, exploitation and destruction, over direct actions like poaching.

So why did I put the jaguar here when it was supposed to be ‘readers choice’? It can’t just be for the fact they can bite through skulls. Well it sort of is but I’m also using cats that have interesting stories and I happen to live nearby to a very famous jaguar.

Maya was made famous by the BBC Television series ‘Big Cats About the House’. She was rescued by Giles Clark, a conservationist and current director of The Big Cat Sanctuary in Kent, at around 5 days old. She had been born at the nearby Wingham Wildlife Park and, for whatever reason, her mother was unable to feed her. So Giles hand-reared this tiny, dark beast as we all watched.

A very small, baby Maya the Jaguar with Giles Clark. (Credit: The Big Cat Sanctuary via Twitter)

Maya seemed to suffer from some problems with her motor skills (movement and balance, that sort of thing) but quickly grew out of them into a gorgeous and majestic ambassador for her species, and for big cats all around the world.

I have been lucky enough to visit The Big Cat Sanctuary on one of their open days and, despite her popularity being akin to The Beatles at their pomp, and her enclosure being surrounded by crowds of people, I was lucky enough to get a glimpse of Maya, playing with a ball in water, when she was still small enough not to look like a murder-shadow!

Maya is an excellent example of the value of animals in captivity.

No true conservationist wants any animal to have to exist in a cage

We would all prefer them to be in their natural habitat. However out there, out in the wild, who would see a jaguar to know how beautiful they are, how playful they are, how majestic they are and how worthy of our assistance, study and protection?

There are some animals that it is good to have captive, so we can learn their breeding habits, assist in breeding more of them, start schemes to re-wild them, and increase their wild populations.

There are some animals it is good to have captive because they are rejected by their mothers, otherwise they would die, and they can go on to become ambassadors for their species, much like Maya.

Sometimes it is good to have an animal in captivity so that people can actually see them up close and realise how much there is out there worth protecting.

These animals should never be held captive just for our amusement. Circuses, performance shows, those sorts of thing – they all don’t sit right with me.

But Maya is an ambassador and a star!

In our homes, down our streets, in our towns and cities, wildlife is often either absent or looked at as a pest. I hate having to keep telling people that the common gulls, the herring gull and the yellow-footed gull, of the UK are not flying rats, pests or scroungers. They eat our waste. Left to their own devices they are exceptionally graceful hunters of fish out on the sea.

Rats may carry fleas that spread diseases but it was ships, carrying goods so people could have goods, it was human greed, that carried plague. We have been trying to shut ourselves off from the natural world for so long, having somewhere to be reminded that wildness, wilderness, is – that’s a good thing.

Keeping animals captive is never ideal, but if it gets even a few people back to realising the value of real, wild habitats, is the ‘cruelty’ worth it? If the animal is enriched, engaged, well looked after, utilised for academic study as well as just being gawked at by the public, I think yes. In fact I don’t necessarily think it has to be cruel at all. I think it can be mutually beneficial.

Maya is a case in point. In the wild, without her mother’s milk, she’d die. Even if her mother was feeding her, with her motor skill development, she’s at risk. There is every chance Maya would not have lived in the wild.

Instead she is alive and well, enriched and engaged, and acting in one of the most important roles of any individual of her species. She is a celebrity, she’s got more followers in twitter than I fucking do! She is highlighting the beauty and majesty of her kind, as well as allowing people to know and understand the problems faced, not just by her species – but by wildlife in general.

If you would like to know more then please visit The Big Cat Sanctuary on their website, where you can see Maya and all of the other amazing cats they work with, find out more about the work they do for cats, habitats and all wildlife and if you feel like, make a donation or buy an adoption pack.

Given that I haven’t even asked you for money for me yet, you can be assured this is a trustworthy organisation and one who I feel reflects my own opinions and passions for nature.

A yawning jaguar. Don’t…don’t stick your hand in there whatever you do. You’ll never get it back! (Credit: Steve Wilson)

But I’ve taken enough of your time and I’m feeling tired, like this jaguar, so until tomorrow that’s enough cat.

Missed out on number 8? Find out about the mysterious and mythical clouded leopard by clicking here.

Or else click here to go on to our next cat, the lion, Panthera leo in at number 6!

Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

Like a dark-chocolate fountain at a weight loss party, Karl Anthony Mercer is an under-utilised river of bittersweetness. When not busy researching or writing about any and all non-fiction topics for 'We Lack Discipline' Karl can often be found walking, staring at wildlife or writing poetry.

18 thoughts on “Top Ten Cats #7 – Jaguar, Panthera onca

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