The jaguar is the third largest of the Big Cats, smaller only to the lion and tiger. One source of confusion for some is the differences between a jaguar and a leopard as they are both similar looking spotted big cats. Firstly you would find a jaguar in the Americas from Southern United States and Mexico across much of Central America and south to Paraguay and northern Argentina. Leopards, on the other hand, are found are found in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
The build of a jaguar tends to be more stocky and muscular than that of the leopard. Spots on both jaguars and leopards will vary from individual to individual as well as between species but in general, the jaguar coat has larger rosettes in smaller numbers. The rosettes usually are darker, have thicker lines, and enclose smaller spots. The leopard's coat has smaller, fainter rosettes in larger numbers. Leopard rosettes usually don't enclose spots. However one similarity is melanism, the condition which makes the coat appear black. In both species, the rosettes can sometimes be seen in the right light.
A melanistic jaguar occurs in about 3-6% of the population. Although melanistic jaguars appear all black, under the right light you will see the black rosettes over a black background. Whereas some mutations may disadvantage animals in the wild, this variation in colour does not seem to, hence the commonness of the trait.
Evidence exists that there is also a colony of non-native melanistic jaguars or leopards inhabiting the rainforests around Sydney, Australia. A local report compiled statements from over 450 individuals recounting their stories of sighting large black cats in the area and confidential NSW Government documents regarding the matter proved wildlife authorities were so concerned about the big cats and the danger to humans, they commissioned an expert to catch it. Click here to read the Sydney Morning Herald story.
Jaguars play an important role in the rainforest ecosystems in which they live. Being a predator at the top of the food chain (apex predator) they ensure that numbers of the animals they prey on are kept under control. When hunting they are stalk and ambush predators and will willingly go into water if necessary. Once they catch their prey they use their strong jaws to crush the skull, an unusual technique for cats. Their choice of prey has been identified as up to about 87 different animals including caiman (a form of small alligator), deer, capybara, tapirs, peccaries, dogs, foxes, anacondas, frogs, mice, birds, fish, sloths, monkeys, turtles and armadillos. Some jaguars will also take domestic livestock, including adult cattle and horses. Jaguars, like all big cats (except lions) are solitary animals only coming together to mate throughout the year or when a female is raising cubs.
Jaguars are listed as Near Threatened by IUCN. Their range still remains large but is reducing due to deforestation. Direct human actions are also causing a decrease in jaguar numbers. International trade in jaguars and their parts is illegal but poachers are still an issue. Jaguars can often come off second best when they come in to conflict with local farmers or ranchers defending their livestock.
The jaguar has been respected by many cultures through time including the ancient civilizations of the Mayans and Aztecs. It was a animal revered for it’s power and stealth. One Mayan myth discusses how the jaguar would watch over humans looking for any dishonourable behaviour. Jaguar would devour individuals, either in real life or in dreams, bring justice for their misdeeds.
Jaguar medicine reminds us that we must use our power for the greatest good, just as jaguar does, using it’s power to maintain the balance of the ecosystem. We must show compassion, behaviour impeccably and live with integrity. In other words, listen to your higher self rather than the ego and use your personal power for obtaining your highest potential.