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  • Writer's pictureAmelia Ramage

Happy International Jaguar Day!

Happy International Jaguar Day!!!

I apologise for being so absent for so long, I have recently been working very hard in Covid labs, putting my laboratory skills to good use to help the NHS test more people during the crisis. However, what a better way to start up again than International Jaguar Day!

For many people that know me, they know that I adore big cats, and everything leopard print too. Although Jaguar’s aren’t technically classified as a big cat, I use the term as an umbrella for my (wild) cat obsession. Jaguars are in fact my favourite of all animals and are actually the reason I decided to become a vegetarian 6 years ago.

Jaguars (Panthera onca) are a large felid species native to the Americas, with its distribution ranging from Mexico to Northern Argentina. Jaguars are typically difficult to distinguish from leopards, however they are typically much bigger and more muscular than leopards, ranging from 1.2m to 1.85m in length, with short (er) tails. Also, another way to separate jaguars from their leopard counterparts, as size only really helps when you encounter leopards and jaguars side by side (which wouldn’t happen in the wild), is to look at their spots. Jaguars have fewer rosettes (fancy name for their spots) but each are darker, thicker, larger and have a small spot in the middle. Most wonderfully, jaguars have a melanised colour variation, where some individuals are black in colour and their spots only visible in direct sunlight. This variation is caused by dominant mutations, specifically a deletion of the melanocortin 1 receptor gene.

Jaguars have a fascinating physiology that allows them to eat a multitude of prey types, some assumingly vicious and/or difficult to kill. Their powerful bite penetrates the shells of turtles or the temples of caiman. Caimans are a particularly dangerous prey choice of jaguars, risking being killed themselves, however their whiskers allow for precision and accuracy meaning their strike disables the reptile instantly.

Regrettably, the IUCN Red List status of the magnificent jaguar is Near Threatened and occupy only half of their historical range. The predominant cause of the habitat fragmentation caused by mass deforestation. This unsustainable deforestation is due to logging, to clear space for cattle ranching or for soy crop plantation. With increasing human population, comes an increased demand for food and therefore meat. Soy is a nutritious and relatively inexpensive livestock feed and huge demand to supply this crop to livestock across the globe means that enormous expanses of Amazon forest are cleared to grow soy. A shrinking habitat means that these cats are forced to eat livestock, increasing human-wildlife conflict (HWC).

They are a top predator, which means they are a good indicator of habitat or ecosystem health. They are also a keystone species, a very important term in conservation biology, as they control population levels of its prey including herbivorous mammals. With their decline, it tells us that the Amazon and other American rainforests are seriously unstable. Protecting jaguars, by protecting the Amazon, will protect a vast number of other species too! Further, halting Amazonian deforestation will help mitigate the climate crisis also, it’s a no brainer!

What can you do?

Check where your produce is from! Beware of animal products, only choose grass fed or better still, choose veggie and give your health a boost too. Certain supermarkets buy from Amazon-destroying farms, so try and avoid any produce that hasn’t been grown in the UK (why add extra air miles too?).

Speak up! Let’s make our local governments put pressure on culprits of large-scale Amazonian deforestation.

Unfortunately, the beautiful jaguar photo above is not my own, but it is my absolute dream to spot (get it) one in the wild in the very near future. The photograph on the left, however, was taken by myself whilst on a research trip to Borneo which shows a Fischer, scarring in the forest landscape caused by long-term logging. Repeated dragging of timber across the habitat removes valuable top soil which contains essential nutrients and minerals needed for plant growth, which can never been rectified and unfortunately only a narrow range of plant species can grow there, decreasing the area’s biodiversity, something that won’t be an uncommon sight within the homes of jaguars. The photograph of the paw print on the right was also taken by myself, and is the closest I’ve ever come to the lucrative jaguar when in Ecuador.

Can you SPOT the difference?

Which one below is a leopard and which one is a jaguar. P.S. Hints above!

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