Jaguars stand out for their large head with a not very prominent snout; large, incisive-looking eyes and short, wide and rounded ears. The neck is short but muscular, as well as their muscular trunk; strong limbs; anterior limbs with five-fingered hands and posterior limbs with four toes, all of which with strong claws. It has a thick, cylindrical tail, well proportioned in relation to body length. The color of the base coat and spots is very similar to that of the leopard (large black spots on a yellow background). It is estimated that jaguars are only 1.2 times longer than cougars, but with jaws that are 1.6 times stronger, which allows them to kill larger prey with a single bite in the neck or the cranium. (Carrillo 2000). There are also black jaguars (melanistic) with black spots that are still vaguely visible, and albino individuals have also been reported.


Jaguars have shown a 37% reduction of their distribution since 1900. They are currently present from southern United States to northern Argentina. They are locally extinct in countries such as El Salvador and Uruguay. Jaguars are distributed in dense forests ranging from sea level to 3000 meters above sea level. In Costa Rica they are currently limited to a few populations in protected wildlife areas, such as Santa Rosa National Park, Barbilla National Park, Corcovado National Park, Tortuguero National Park and the foothills of the Talamanca Mountain Range. (López, 1985). Individuals have been reported in the Alberto Manuel Brenes Biological Reserve, Guanacaste National Park, Rincon de la Vieja National Park and the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge.

Se encuentra distribuido en bosques densos que se localizan desde el nivel del mar hasta los 3000 m.s.n.m. En Costa Rica actualmente está limitado por unas pocas poblaciones localizadas en áreas silvestres protegidas como lo son: el Parque Nacional Santa Rosa, Parque Nacional Barbilla, Parque Nacional Corcovado, el Parque Nacional Tortuguero y las estribaciones de la cordillera de Talamanca.(López ,1985). Se han reportado individuos en la Reserva Biológica Alberto Manuel Brenes, Parque Nacional Guanacaste, Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja y el Refugio de Vida Silvestre Caño Negro.


Jaguars have adapted to a large variety of habitats and regions, such as tropical and subtropical zones, savannas, marshes, etc. (Sanderson et al., 2002), although in Costa Rica they are most commonly found in dry and wet forests and mangroves. (Wainwright, 2007). The reduction of their forests and the degradation of their habitat have restricted them to only a portion of their original distribution range, partly due to the alteration of the habitat by humans.


Jaguars hunt primarily on the ground. These animals are opportunistic feeders, as they catch any type of prey available in their ecosystems (López 1985). In Costa Rica they feed mainly on peccaries, white peccaries, sloths, deer, iguanas and olive ridley sea turtles. Other common prey are pacas, monkeys, ocelots, pumas, fish, crested guans, boas and other snakes, small alligators, fresh water turtles and turtle eggs, and even grass. (Carrillo, 2000). They also feed on cattle, which creates conflict with humans. Jaguars do not kill large mammals by biting their jugular or by suffocation, but they rather tend to grab them by the neck and fall back, while twisting their necks to drag them to the ground, highly likely dislocating or breaking the victim’s neck and killing it instantly. Jaguars are also known for biting and breaking the skulls of their prey.


Jaguars are the largest carnivores in Costa Rica. They are active day or night; they are good climbers and swimmers, although they prefer to hunt on the ground. Jaguars drag large victims for long distances until they find a suitable place for eating them. They return to such places and feed for several days, and in some cases the same sites are reused. Jaguars typically travel for several miles to find food and a suitable resting place. They commonly sleep on trees, on the ground or in caves (Carrillo 2000). It has been mentioned that jaguars adjust their hunting according to the nesting cycles of sea turtles. When most turtles are laying their eggs, jaguars patrol the beaches at night, and spend the rest of the time in the forest. They may hunt by day, when peccaries, which are their main prey in the forest, are active. (Emmons et al 1989).


Being solitary carnivores, jaguars communicate indirectly through specific olfactory signals (Wozencraft, 1993) or by leaving scent marks, which are more present in solitary individuals. Marking involves several types of behavior such as dissipating urine, depositing feces, scratching trees and rubbing against tree trunks or other surfaces. These animals can detect such signals in short ranges; they can decode the olfactory signals, although it should also be noted that these territorial marks are a method to avoid conflicts for food or mating companions in a specific area (Sunquist, 2002). In general, females leave urinary scent marks during their estrus; when males detect them, they begin a continuous marking process in order advertise their presence to the female (Smith et al. 1989). During mating season, the roar of the jaguar is heard more frequently than during the rest of the year. The female roars calling the male and the male answers back with strong roars. After mating, the gestation period lasts from 93 to 110 days. The female selects a protected place to give birth to her offspring. Females give birth to 1 to 4 cubs at a time. Cubs are born with a long, wooly and pale coat, with a pattern of black round spots with pale centers. Their mother takes care of them for around 5 to 6 months, and they become independent after one or two years until they reach sexual maturity. (Wainwright 2007).


Jaguars are classified as a near threatened species by the IUCN due to indiscriminate hunting, conflicts with humans due to predation of cattle and to the loss of their habitat caused by deforestation. The future of jaguars in Costa Rica and their distribution range are both uncertain; according to some estimation, jaguars today have reduced their original range by one third in Central America, and by more than two thirds in South America (Salvatori et al, 2002). The fur trade took its toll during the past decades. Approximately 15,000 jaguars were killed in the Amazon during the 1960s, and, only in 1986, United States imported 13,516 furs. Nowadays, the loss of their habitat and persecution by hunters and farmers are their main threats (Wainwright, 2007). Even though sometimes jaguars feed on cattle, unfortunately the problem actions of one single animal often cause the chase of an entire population. There are very few cases of jaguars attacking humans, and most of the time these are mere speculations (Wainright, 2007).

Sunquist, M. and Sunquist, F. (2002) Wild Cats of the World. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Wainwright, M. 2007. The Mammals of Costa Rica. Ed. Zona Tropical Publications, San José, Costa Rica.
López, E. 1985. Historia natural de los felinos de Costa Rica. s.e. Costa Rica.
Wozencraft W. C, 1993 Order Carnivora. In Wilson D. E. and Reeder D. M.
(eds): Mammal species of the world, Washington & London, Smithsonian Institution Press: 279-348.


Jaguar (Panthera onca):

It is distributed from Mexico to northern Argentina, in lowlands up to 2200 meters above sea level. And it is an endangered species. Its size ranges between 170 - 230 cm, and its weight between 45 - 130 Kg. The species has nocturnal and diurnal habits. Their prey consists mainly of peccaries, collar peccaries, deer, pacas and sea turtles. There is a black morph called the Panther.

Yaguarundí (Puma yagouaroundi):

It can be found in the lowlands and up to 3200 meters above sea level, from the south of United States to the north of Argentina. It is an endangered species. Their size ranges between 67 - 130 cm and their weight between 4 - 9 Kg. The species has mainly diurnal habits. They feed on reptiles, amphibians, small birds and rodents.

Puma (Puma concolor):

It is distributed from the south of Canada to the south of Argentina and Chile, at altitudes up to 5800 meters above sea level. It is an endangered species. Their size ranges between 105 - 135 cm and their weight between 24 - 65 Kg. They are active day and night. It feeds on a wide range of prey, from collar peccaries to small mammals, reptiles and some birds.

Ocelote (Leopardus pardalis):

It is distributed from the south of United States to the north of Argentina, in lowlands up to 3700 meters above sea level. It is an endangered species. Their size ranges between 55 - 100 cm and their weight between 7 – 14.5 Kg. It feeds on small mammals (rodents, possums, monkeys, and rabbits), reptiles and some birds.

Margay (Leopardus wiedii):

It is distributed from the south of United States to Uruguay and the north of Argentina, from the lowlands up to 3000 meters above sea level. They have mainly arboreal habits. Their pattern of activity is predominantly nocturnal-crepuscular. It is an endangered species. They are small (3,3Kg), solitary felines. They feed mainly on small mammals, birds and reptiles, with an average weight of <200 g.

Tiger cat (Leopardus tigrinus):

It is distributed from Costa Rica to the north of Argentina and the south of Brazil and Paraguay. It is an endangered species. They are mainly terrestrial and nocturnal. They are very similar to margays, although much smaller. Their size ranges between 67,5 - 98 cm with an average weight of 2,2 Kg. Their prey consists mainly of small mammals, reptiles and birds.


We at the Jaguar Foundation wish to express our deepest thanks to the contributors, who, like us, have believed in the importance of supporting the efforts of the state Universities in the conservation and preservation of the jaguar.