• Ben M.


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The title is not meant to be a rhetorical question, but it’s probably not the apex predator you would think. The biggest cats in the world are the tiger, the lion, and the jaguar respectively. All three are part of the Panthera genus along with snow leopards and leopards. The male tiger can reach lengths up to 12.5 feet and weight 650 pounds, while the male lion averages around 420-450 pounds. The largest cat in the western hemisphere though is the jaguar. The jaguar can weigh between 200-300 pounds although unusually large males have been recorded at 350 pounds. Pound for pound, the jaguar owns the strongest bite of any big cat, coming in at about 200 pounds per square inch. That is double the bite force of a tiger. Jaguars are able to bite through a tortoise shell or bite directly into the skull of larger prey to deliver a fatal blow to the brain. Just like the snow leopard, they are another big cat I’ve long wanted to photograph. If you read my previous blog about being locked down in Bolivia, that lockdown and the continued shutdown from the pandemic kept me from searching for jaguars on the eastern side of South America. I intended on going through Chile, around to Argentina, then up to the jaguar heavy countries Brazil and Guyana. Brazil is well known for its jaguar population in North Pantanal; the question of how many jaguars remain in the wild is up for debate. A study conducted by scientist Włodzimierz Jędrzejewski determined there was 173,000 jaguars remaining globally, but this is predicated on the density estimates from satellite imagery and camera trapping. Most conservation groups estimate there are 15,000 jaguars left in the wild. Jaguars are not currently endangered, but they are considered threatened. The main causes of this dilemma are habitat and prey loss, wildlife trafficking, and retaliatory killings. The most disturbing cause for me personally is the wildlife trafficking. Regrettably, the habitat loss is seen everywhere with population growth around the world. India with tigers, Central Asia with snow leopards, and the U.S. with mountain lions. The jaguar is a magnificent predator. They are considerably shorter lengthwise than a tiger or lion, averaging around 7ft long with a tail around 2 ft. They are the epitome of power, ferocity, and explosion. The jaguar is extremely muscular through their neck, their torso, and their limbs. I mentioned in the first paragraph with their great bite force a jaguar can bite through a skull. These cats are adept at handling prey that is considered large. The jaguar is slightly bigger than a mountain lion or cougar but has 1.6 times the bite force. They are solitary animals and similar to their genus relatives, the snow leopard and leopard, they will look to avoid human contact at all costs. This is a hunter designed for stalking and killing. Jaguars are unusual when compared to other big cats as they are excellent swimmers and can take prey while in the water. See the below video (hopefully National Geographic doesn’t remove it). Between 2012 and 2018, over 800 jaguars were killed for their teeth, skins, and skulls; likely to be smuggled to China. This is a 200 times increase from before 2012. As Chinese investment in South America has increased in Central and South America, so has the amount of trafficking. I noted the similar issue in my prior blog about snow leopards, as these cats can be easier to obtain than tigers. Through the last decade, Chinese investment has grown ten times and there is now a multitude of Chinese workers for dam and road projects. Another driving factor is the long-term corruption in many South American and Central American countries with very low salaries. I yearn to see a jaguar live in the wild; the best place is most likely North Pantanal in Brazil. There they tend to come onto the riverbanks more openly, plus there are many more jaguars in that location then other countries and reserves. You can potentially see one in Guyana, Argentina, Mexico, Costa Rica, or Belize but it is much less likely. I did see them up close in the jaguar sanctuary in Costa Rica; those cats were kept as pets illegally but cannot be turned back into the wild after being fed by humans. It’s distressing to see them in captivity. Although the sanctuary is well purposed, I despise zoos and displays where animals are taken from their correct habitats, i.e., snow leopards in the Memphis Zoo.

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