The magnificent Jaguar is a member of the felidae cat family. It is one of only five in the Panthera genus, which also includes the Lion, Tiger, Leopard and Snow Leopard. In the geographical area known as 'The New World' (specifically the Americas), Panthera onca is the only member of the genus. |
For amateur wildlife aficionados, Jaguar watching has become far more accessible in recent years, with a number of reputable travel companies offering dedicated tours into the densely populated wildlife regions of the Brazilian Pantanal. While all the big cats sighted on Jaguar watching tours throughout the Pantanal, and indeed in any country in Central or South America, are Panthera onca, there are a number of subspecies.
While previously far more widespread, the big cat's range now spreads from Paraguay and some parts of Northern Argentina through most of Central America, Mexico and some isolated sightings have been reported in southwest areas of the United States. Dense forests are its preferred habitat; however, it will roam across open terrain too. Apart from the Tiger, it is the only felid comfortable swimming (including when hunting), and is often sighted lazing on riverbanks or around water holes.
As an apex predator, the animal is a vital part of the ecosystem within its habitat, keeping down numbers of smaller prey animals and maintaining the delicate balance of these extremely bio diverse regions.
In 1939, when research and delineation of the species was conducted by Reginald Pocock, eight subspecies were identified – but with Pocock’s own reservations, as he did not have access to a complete set of specimens and data. In later years, further research concluded there should perhaps be just three subspecies. Even more recent findings suggest that while there is a marked difference in characteristics between north and south extremities of the range (considering the geographical barrier to gene exchange of the Amazon River, for example), in fact there is sometimes greater differentiation within each subspecies than between them.
Using the basis of Pocock's research and collating it with the findings of the later updated studies, three subspecies are generally listed as follows, although some sources still officially recognise Pocock's eight subspecies as separate.
Panthera onca onca - Found in the Amazon region of Venezuela and including the subspecies peruviana, which is found along the coastline of Peru.
Panthera onca hernandesii – Found in areas of Western Mexico and including centralis (found in Central America from Colombia to El Salvador); arizonensis (found from Sonora in Mexico up to eastern Arizona); veraecrucis (found from southeastern areas of Mexico up through the centre of Texas; and goldmani (found in Belize, Guatemala and the Yucatán Peninsula).
Panthera onca palustris - Found in parts of Argentina, Paraguay, and in the vast Pantanal regions of Mato Grosso and Brazil, where the majority of Jaguar watching tours are conducted.
In terms of conservation, the species is categorised as an 'umbrella species', meaning that its habitat and range is broad enough that general conservation efforts will result in the protection of a number of subspecies. It's for this reason that the focus is largely on important initiatives that are creating 'wildlife corridors', through which the animals can safely travel.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Jaguar watching in the Brazilian Pantanal region. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led wildlife holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
Related Articles -