by Rita Goldner

In keeping with my theme of blogs about interesting animals, this month I present the jaguar. I’ve chosen this magnificent big cat because a particular jaguar has been in the news lately here in Arizona. A jaguar at the World Wildlife Zoo bit a woman who climbed over a barrier to take a selfie with her. We found out later that the animal was pregnant at the time, and several weeks later gave birth to a healthy cub, an event applauded by zoo officials since captive births are rare.

The transgressor at the zoo later publicly apologized for her behavior and agreed the fault was all hers. Zoo officials stated that nothing would be done to the jaguar, since she had not escaped her confines; it was the zoo visitor who had intruded into the habitat. Of course the casual news reader can come up with plenty of blame to spread around: lack of education or supervision of zoo patrons, need for more fool-proof enclosures, whatever. Hopefully we can all agree that zero blame should land on the jaguar, who was just doing what comes naturally.

What springs to my mind, especially after a lot of recent research about jaguars (I DO love animal research!) is that the woman was lucky she wasn’t more seriously hurt. A jaguar’s bite is the most powerful of all the big cats, relative to its size. A jaguar can crush its prey’s skulls and turtle shells easily. Lions and tigers have bigger jaws, so their bite can be harder, but pound for pound the jaguar, the third largest cat, is pretty impressive.

The name jaguar came from the Tupian language in South America. Their word yaguara translates as “one which kills with a single leap.” Yikes!

The cat that looks most similar to the jaguar is the leopard, but there’s no chance of confusing the two cats in the wild, since leopards are found in Africa and Asia, and jaguars only in the Americas.

Jaguars may now survive only in Central and South America, not North America. One individual was spotted in southern Arizona a few years back, but scientists can’t find him anymore. They credit hunting and poaching for this loss.

At first I was sad when I read that our locally famous zoo jaguar had her baby taken from her at birth. The baby is being raised by humans and bottle fed with formula. After researching captive births, however, I see that sometimes the mother kills the newborn, so it seems the zoo officials didn’t want to take a chance, since leopards are nearing endangered status. About 15,000 are left in the wild.

I prefer visiting and sketching animals at the Phoenix Zoo in lieu of the World Wildlife Zoo. Phoenix has large and interesting natural-looking habitats, while World Wildlife uses some caged enclosures. During my frequent sketching treks, I’ve informally dubbed the jaguars as one of the most beautiful animals there. They have the largest eyes of all the cats, relative to their head size. The eyes are gold/yellow. The coat is tawny gold (except for the occasional black cat) with dark rosettes that appear as groups of spots arranged in a pattern. Like other cats, male jaguars weigh more than females. The weight of the male is usually around 126 to 250 lbs., while females weigh around 100 to 200 lbs. The average height of a jaguar is 25 to 30 inches.

I also have to respect their formidable hunting skills. They’re great at climbing, sneak-crawling, and fishing. They even use their tails like a fishing lure. A jaguar’s eyesight is six times better than that of humans. They are the apex predators in their ecosystem, meaning no other animal eats them, and they eat just about every animal in sight. One was observed dragging an 850-pound leatherback sea turtle to a hidden place to eat leisurely. They don’t chase their prey; rather, they wait and attack suddenly. This ambush strategy is unequaled in the animal kingdom.

Like most endangered species, jaguars are threatened in the wild by deforestation of the rainforest and encroaching civilization. They are considered by scientists and conservationists to be an “umbrella species,” which means that when they are helped by conservation efforts, other species are aided indirectly, so the whole ecosystem benefits.

Thanks for listening! Comments welcome.




Rita Goldner
is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Rita Goldner2Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series.For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit Or by the Kindle version here. Rita’s newest book, Making Marks on the World: A Storybook for Left- and Right-Handed Coloring, is available for purchase here. Works in progress: H2O Rides the Water CycleThe Flying Artist, and Rose ColoredTo view additional illustrations and Rita’s books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook. Subscribe to Rita’s newsletter, Orangutans and More! and receive a free coloring page of today’s illustration.

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