A strict carnivore, the jaguar nonetheless enjoys a varied diet, including deer, peccaries, fish, sheep and cattle. Jaguars are most abundant in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest and Pantanal savannah, and they also inhabit smaller pockets of South and Central America. A solitary hunter, her habitat determines her hunting technique, which she adapts to make the best use of her surroundings.
Jaguars prefer to hunt at night, with the cover of darkness. Not only does the darkness conceal her from the prey, hunting at night also gets around the problem of heat exhaustion, a problem for big cats that live in tropical climes. Her night vision is excellent; in fact, her ability to see improves in low light and darkness. This gives the jaguar an advantage when hunting land mammals. Once she has subdued her prey, she kills it with a bite to the neck or by piercing the skull with a single bite.
A strong swimmer, the jaguar is happy to get into water in the pursuit of a good meal. She’ll hunt fish and even caiman if they are available. A jaguar can occupy a range of up to 60 square miles.
Jaguars have been observed to use seasons to their advantage when hunting. Researchers in Brazil noted that jags switched from hunting caiman and peccaries to hunting cattle when water levels on the Brazilian savannah fell. This was because ranchers would move their cattle out into the savannah, making them a much easier target than the caiman and peccaries. If a jaguar spots a herd of cattle or sheep, he’ll find it hard to resist such an apparently easy target, although the threat they pose to livestock causes conflict with humans, and they are regularly shot by ranchers. When hunting a herd, she’ll stalk from distance and approach quietly. Once within range, she’ll launch a stealthy, surprise ambush.
One of the jaguar’s most successful hunting techniques is to climb into a tree and wait for prey to pass below. She’s a great climber and once in position, can sit in silence waiting for her next meal to wander below. Her elevated position means she doesn’t rustle leaves or step on twigs, and her scent is less detectable to her prey. With precise timing, she pounces from the branches, taking her prey by surprise.
- Philadelphia Zoo: Jaguar
- University of Michigan; Animal Diversity Web: Panthera Onca
- Wildlife Extra: GPS Tracking Gives Insight into Hunting Habits of Brazilian Jaguar
- San Diego Zoo: Mammals; Jaguar
- Northern Jaguar Project: About the Jaguar
- Encyclopedia of Life: Panthera Onca
- Cat Channel: Jaguar
- USDA National Wildlife Research Center; Staff Publications: Kill Rates and Predation Patterns of Jaguars (Panthera Onca) in the Southern Pantanal, Brazil
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