For many wildlife enthusiasts, the opportunity to head off on a dedicated Jaguar tour to South America to catch a sighting of this most elusive of big cats is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There's nothing quite like seeing this stealthy, secretive creature in its natural habitat and, with the aid of experienced naturalists and local guides, a well-organised, professional Jaguar tour offers the very best chance for optimal sightings. |
While there's no particular preparation required for a Jaguar tour, participants may find it helpful to familiarise themselves with some terminology relating not only to the big cats themselves, but also to the specialised equipment used by researchers to track and record their data as they move about their jungle habitat.
Here are some of the more commonly-used terms explained.
Apex predator – An apex or top-level predator is an animal that is not preyed upon by any other, therefore putting it at the top of the food chain in its particular habitat.
Carnivore – A carnivore is an animal that derives the bulk of its nutrients from a diet of flesh – in this case, the big cat subsists mainly on deer, tapir, monkeys, sloths, reptiles, peccaries and cattle or other domestic livestock.
Range – A range is the area(s) in which an animal can be found living in its natural habitat. Although much reduced over the past decades, the Jaguar's range is still large, extending through Southwestern and Central America and down as far as Paraguay in South America.
Territory – The big cat's territory is the area in which an individual roams and hunts. They are solitary creatures, with the exception of meeting to mate, and a male's territory can be anything from 20 to 55 square miles. The females have their own smaller territories, which often overlap into a male's. While the male is happy to share with resident females they will defend their territory aggressively against other males.
Felidae – The term felidae refers to the cat family, and any animal that is a member of this family is referred to as a felid.
Big Cat – The term big cat is used to differentiate between the larger and smaller species of felids and other members include Lions, Tigers, Leopards and Snow Leopards.
Panthera onca – This is the animal's Latin name. Panthera is the genus and onca is the species. Panthera onca is the only remaining species of Panthera in the Americas, and it has nine subspecies.
Rosettes – Rosettes are the rose-shaped markings on the big cat's fur. The irregular shaped rosettes have one or more dots within the circle (unlike the Leopard's, which are solid) and are unique to the individual animal.
Camera trap – Camera traps are used by field biologists to collect data, which aids in research and the conservation of wildlife. A camera equipped with a highly sensitive infrared sensor is set up within the animal's habitat and, when it passes in front of it, a pre-determined number of frames are captured. The specialised cameras are super quiet and equipped with infrared flash, which is undetectable by the animals. The camera traps are often able to capture rare images of the animal's natural behaviours.
Capture-recapture technique – Capture-recapture techniques are used in conjunction with camera traps to measure the density of the population within a range or territory. It involves using specialised software to compare and analyse multiple image data of individuals captured over a specific time period. It is also a non-invasive technique valuable in identifying physical changes over the long term.
While this list is certainly not exhaustive, it offers a basic glossary of terms one might encounter while on a Jaguar tour.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Jaguar watching. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led Jaguar tour itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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