Melanistic (Black) Jaguar
(click above to meet Bear Creek's Black Jaguars)
Panthera Onca

Central and South America
Life span up to 22 years

All subspecies of jaguar are endangered. Many are extinct except in zoos,
where they breed successfully.

The term "black panther" is quite often used in connection with large black cats, however there is no one distinct species of wild cat called a black panther. Over the years, it has become used as a common name, which is often applied to any large black coated cat. When you see a picture labeled as a black panther it is usually a melanistic leopard or a jaguar.

Unlike many other big cats, apart from man, the jaguar has no rivals, no other predator can compete with this powerful cat. In size its prey ranges from large domestic livestock such as cattle and horses (for which it has a poor reputation with ranchers and farmers) Marsh deer, Brocket deer, various species of Peccary (a type of pig) to large rodents (Capybara), reptiles, monkeys and fish.

Equally at home as a climber, but not as adept as a leopard, the jaguar will hunt monkeys in the lower branches of the large rain forest trees. In much of its range where man lives close by, the jaguar now has to compete with the human hunter and poachers who take many of the same species as the big cat.

During the peak of its decline in the sixties and seventies around 18,000 jaguars were killed every year for their much sought-after coat. Due to environmental pressure the fashion for animal furs has declined, but the jaguar is still hunted. It is estimated that there are now only around 15,000 jaguars left in the wild.

Spotted Jaguar
Panthera Onca
Central and South America as far south as Patagonia

In appearance the jaguar is often confused with the leopard. Both cats, depending to a degree on sub-species, have a similarly brownish / yellow base fur colour (except for the melanistic individuals) which is distinctively marked with dark rosettes. However, the jaguar can be distinguished by the presence of small dots or irregular shapes within the larger rosette markings, a more stocky and muscular body and a shorter tail. The jaguar is the only big cat that does not roar.

In comparison with the other big cats of its size, the jaguar has particularly powerful jaws and often kills its prey by piercing the skull with one swift bite. In the Cockscomb Basin Reserve in Belize the predominant prey species has been found to be the armadillo, whose bony protective plates offer little defense against the power of the jaguar's bite. It is an expert in catching fish and will often tackle turtles and large caimans.