It has been clocked at astonishing speeds, particularly on long straightaways. A hugely successful racing model, its compact, sturdy frame is a marvel of efficiency that puts the competition to shame.
The largest cat in South and Central America, the jaguar—like the luxury sports car that bears its name—boasts a superior body design and one of the fastest accelerations in nature: up to 65 miles per hour in mere seconds! (Although it can only maintain that speed for short spurts.) The feline can reach up to six feet in length (add another two for the tail) and weights of 250 pounds, and is distinguished by its yellowish-orange fur dotted with dark, floral-shaped spots called rosettes. The few whose coats appear totally black are known as melanistic.
A strict carnivore, the jaguar gets its name from the Native American word yajuar, which means “he who kills with one leap.” It also is a bit of a head case—instead of clamping onto its prey’s neck like other cats, a jaguar chomps straight down on the head with powerful jaws that can eat bones and crack turtle shells. Excellent swimmers (they’ve been known to paddle across the Panama Canal), they catch testudines in rivers, along with frogs and fish by using their tails as a sort of fishing lure. On land, they stalk deer, capybaras, peccarries, and monkeys.
Natural loners who cover vast territories up to 50 miles wide, jaguars only cohabitate while mating (late-August to early-October) or caring for cubs. Their gestation period is around 14 weeks and litters are generally two to four cubs, although the mortality rate for baby jaguars is quite high. They learn to hunt around six months of age, and by two are on their own living, on average, between 12 and 15 years.
Jaguars once roamed freely from Argentina to Arizona, although they have lost nearly half of their natural territory and have totally disappeared from many countries including the US. The great cats typically live in the rainforest and woodlands close to water; excessive poaching and habitat destruction have made them a near-threatened species.
One country striving to reverse that trend is Guyana, which claims the jaguar as its national animal (two adorn the official coat of arms). It also hosts a large number of the cats, which make their home in the country’s vast unspoiled forests. In 2013, as part of its progressive environmental efforts, Guyana joined a regional pact to create a “jaguar corridor” that links core populations of the cats from the tip of South America up through Mexico.
Our 10-day Wild Guyana journey departs October 5, 2018.
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