Rainforest 101: What Do Jaguars Eat?
If you ever find yourself strolling innocently through the South American rainforest and spotting a majestic cat, your first question should definitely be: “What do jaguars eat again?” Then you may want to start running because yes, jaguars can attack humans!
Luckily, we usually tend not to take a walk around the rainforest by ourselves, and if we avoid bothering it, the jaguar is actually a friendly and beautiful member of the Amazon wildlife.
Jaguars (panthera onca) are the largest cats living on the American continent and they resemble the leopard that lives in the Old World. After lions and tigers, jaguars are the third largest predators in the world with a body length of 140-180cm and an additional 40-70cm long tale.
Although it has many similarities with leopards, jaguars are generally built stronger and heavier with a weight between 70kg (female) and 110kg (male).
The fur has a strong yellow colour with black or brown spots and marks. These marks are much bigger than the ones found on leopards. However, there are numerous examples of melanism (from Greek ‘melos’ meaning ‘black’) which is a commonly found over-pigmentation in animals, and jaguars that experience this overflow of melantines (dark pigments) are usually completely black.
The Natural Habitat
Jaguars are usually found in the Amazon Rainforest, but they used to be widespread all over Latin America and Southern USA. However, due to increased settlements and hunting, jaguars were nearly completely extinguished by the 1950’s.
Luckily they managed to survive despite being shot and hunted, and they now live primarily in tropical rainforest regions rather than populated areas. Water is certainly very important and jaguars tend to live around lakes, creeks, rivers and swampland.
Time to Dine- What do Jaguars Eat?
The rainforest is filled with exotic plants and has a rich animal life- but what do jaguars eat and what are their favourite dishes? They are natural hunters and like to sneak up to their prey before attacking it. Since jaguars are extremely quick animals, the hunt is over fairly soon and it knocks its victim unconscious by hitting it with its paw.
Jaguars are the only cat of prey that use their canine teeth to crack skulls open. This enables them to eat animals that have a shell such as tortoise and other reptiles.
But what really gets the jaguar going is a feast of large prey such as deer and tapirs, while sloth, rodents and even monkeys are very popular on the daily menu. Smaller mid-morning snacks typically include animals like birds and frogs. Jaguars were particularly unpopular in the US because they were eating livestock from farms and were shot when caught.
Although it has been observed that jaguars attack and eat humans, they only do so when they feel threatened- and in their defence, they have always been threatened by mankind. In fact, they have been hunted for many decades for their fur, and their natural habitat is becoming smaller every year as we continuously tear down the rainforest.
Jaguars and Men
In many native tribes, jaguars have always had an important role and were described in stories as ‘god-like’ creatures. But an increasingly shrinking rainforest also means a growing human society that hunts potentially dangerous animals- including jaguars. Thus, its natural habitat is only 50% of what it used to be just a few decades ago and jaguars have completely disappeared from many regions.
Although there are laws prohibiting the hunt for their skin, poachers still kill the animals illegally and sell their fur on black markets. While there are many animals that are more at risk than jaguars, their number has drastically decreased and they are likely to become an endangered species yet again in only a few years time.
Jaguars only attack humans when they are defending themselves. Humans on the other hand kill them light-headedly, for sports, for fur or simply because they are in the way of shiny new buildings.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?