Guest Post: Why are Jaguars Endangered?

Here’s a guest post from Monica Heft of Animal Creative Facts! In this post, Monica summarizes many of the key points that have led to jaguars becoming endangered or threatened in many of their range countries.

Here’s Monica’s post!


Introduction to Jaguars

A jaguar
jaguar by Rachel. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Jaguars, scientifically known as Panthera onca, are one of the most potent animals belonging to the cat family.

Jaguars are close cousins to lions, tigers, and leopards as they belong to the same family and share similar DNA. However, the jaguar is the only extant member of the genus Panthera native to the Americas.

The jaguar’s present range extends from the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico in North America, through most of Central America, and into Paraguay and northern Argentina in South America.

An adult male jaguar can grow between 4 to 7 feet long, excluding its tail, ranging from 45 to 47 centimeters in length. The wild cat can stand about 3 feet high at the shoulder and can weigh up to 300 pounds if fully grown.

The jaguar has a sturdy body with heavily muscled forearms and shoulders that add strength for capturing its prey. It has long thick legs with a giant head. The species’ hind legs are more extensive than its forelimbs for improved jumping. The animal’s forepaws are equipped with long claws to hold and grab its prey.

A jaguar
Leopard on Brown Log from Pexels, Public Domain image. Note: This “leopard” is actually a jaguar.

Jaguars have rough tongues designed to peel the skin away from their prey’s flesh and peel the meat away from their bones. The animal has loose skin at its belly, letting the predators kick with little chance of injury.

Reading the animal’s above description, one might imagine how powerful, healthy, and fierce the jaguar can be.

But jaguars were declared an endangered species in the United States under the Endangered Species Act in 1997. Jaguars’ global population has decreased over the past 100s of years, and the primary threat to the species is humans.

Threats to Jaguars

The Fur Trade

Jaguars used to be heavily hunted for their fur by humans.

Between the 1960s and 1970s, around 18,000 jaguars were killed every year for their fur, until the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) greatly reduced the pelt trade.

Despite the lessening of the pelt trade, jaguars continue to face other threats.

Habitat Loss

Historically, the greatest threat to jaguars has come in the form of habitat loss and fragmentation.

Jaguars require fresh water as part of their habitat, and they do better in areas away from human settlement. But as humanity expands into the jaguar’s habitat, the cat’s territory decreases.

At present, the jaguar’s main stronghold is the Amazon Basin, although even this is under threat from human encroachment and the overhunting of the jaguar’s prey.

A map explaining the historic and current range of the jaguar.
An approximation of the historic vs current range of the jaguar. Range of jaguar (Panthera onca) by The Emirr. CC BY 3.0

Human-Wildlife Conflict

Human hunting and settlement have reduced the jaguar’s range, and the remaining jaguars have been forced to adapt to the changing conditions.

This results in jaguars attempting to kill and eat livestock like cows and pigs, which puts them in direct conflict with farmers.

In much of their range, this means that jaguars run the risk of being shot on sight (although there are other drivers of human-wildlife conflict, too).

Poaching

Sadly, human expansion is not the only threat people pose to jaguars.

As the species is unique and rare in the wild, they are illegally hunted by poachers. Poachers mainly kill jaguars for their skins and fangs, which reach high prices in Asia as an element in traditional medicines.

Admired by ancient pre-Hispanic cultures as an icon of power associated with the gods, jaguars now face the greed of traffickers who sell the animal’s body parts in markets.

Agricultural expansion in Latin America

In Latin America, more land is covered by protected areas than in any other region of the world.

However, it has not been enough to defend jaguars, which are the largest felines in the Americas.

Urban and agricultural expansion is largely responsible for jaguars’ decreasing numbers in the past few years, both by shrinking the cats’ habitat and by increasing the chances for conflict.

A cow licking its lips.
The conversion of natural habitat to cattle pasture is a major threat to jaguars in parts of their range. Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay.

Conservation Efforts

Because of the decline of these wild cats, the jaguar has been protected under Appendix I of CITES, which means commercial trade of the jaguar and its body parts are strictly prohibited.

The jaguar is also protected at the national level across its range, with hunting prohibited in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, the U. S., Panama, Costa Rica, and Paraguay.

Despite these efforts, the species is listed as Near Threatened in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Conclusion

As a keystone species, jaguars are essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems.

Governments and non-profit organizations are trying every effort to protect jaguars and stop their illegal hunting and poaching, and they have had some success. For instance, the demand for jaguar coats has declined since the mid-1970s.

However, governments and NGOs need our help to conserve jaguars.

By openly discouraging the trade in jaguar parts, contributing financially, making ethical dietary choices, and displaying our enthusiasm for jaguars, we can help to ensure the species’ long-term survival in the wild.


I’d like to add a special thank you to Monica for writing this post! Please visit her website!

5 Thoughts

    1. Jaguar poaching is a major concern internationally, but many of the countries where it takes place lack the resources to properly combat it. International support would help in that regard, which is why it’s important for us to help organizations that are committed to jaguar conservation.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Thanks, Monica and thank you Josh for sharing this summary of jaguars! It is true that agricultural expansion is a major cause of jaguar habitat losses. In my view, there is a need to engage agricultural producers that live and work in and around the range of jaguars to help protect habitat. Governments and NGOs certainly help with education and knowledge sharing of effective strategies to protect jaguars and habitat, but they cannot do everything! Both small scale producers and large companies that produce food and forest products need to do their part. Consumers also need to be educated to curtail or eliminate demand for products that are produced in areas where habitat must be cleared. That habitat is rich in biodiversity and essential for life on earth.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Sid! If we can increase tolerance for jaguars amongst livestock producers, then the conversion of natural habitat to agricultural land would be less of a problem. After all, it’s better to have land dedicated to cattle pasture than subdivided and urbanized.

      More support for farmers who live in jaguar habitat from consumers and brands would be awesome. Many of us benefit from the work of the farmers, so we should also share some of the burden related to livestock depredation.

      Liked by 1 person

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