While the jaguar tops the list of the largest cats in the Western Hemisphere at an average length of about 2 meters (6 1/2 feet) and a weight of about 80 kilograms (175 pounds), this spotted cat also finds itself on the endangered species list. These attractive predators can be found in the southwestern United States but exist in greater numbers in South America. Human activity largely is to blame for the jaguars' dwindling population.
Hunted for Fur
Before they were protected as an endangered species, the jaguar population was greatly diminished by hunters, who killed the cats for their fur. The jaguar now is protected throughout its range of habitats, but not all countries have banned killing the animal for its fur. And as long as a demand exists for the jaguar's spotted coat, poachers will continue to hunt them down.
Threat to Livestock
Jaguars hunt. Jaguars don't understand they aren't supposed to hunt livestock. As humans continue to expand into the jaguar's habitat, the more likely it is that livestock will be hunted as prey. Many ranches have a policy to shoot any jaguar that comes near the ranch, whether the jaguar has killed livestock or not.
Habitat Loss for Agriculture
The major problem now for the recovery of the jaguar is habitat loss. The clearing of rain forests for crops, logging and ranches reduces the places where the jaguars can hunt and live. Jaguars are solitary animals and typically only come together to breed. With the discontinuity of their habitat, breeding pairs are less likely to find each other. Each time a breeding period is missed, a female misses having kittens to increase the jaguar population.
Habitat Loss from Pollution
A little-recognized problem for the jaguar is pollution. Smog inhibits the growth of the grasses the jaguars use as cover when stalking prey and to hide from humans. When the jaguar can't hide, its prey has a better advantage, and hunting becomes more difficult, leading to stress and starvation. When jaguars can't hide from humans, the cats are seen as a threat and killed.
- Photo Credit AlexanderDavid/iStock/Getty Images
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