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This big cat’s spots are disappearing across the Americas

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The jaguar is the largest cat of the Americas, and the third largest in the world after the tiger and lion. While it varies in size, the jaguar can weigh up to 250 pounds.  

This intense big cat ranges through 18 countries in Latin America from Mexico to Argentina, but its numbers are declining. The jaguar also is occasionally spotted in the Southwest United States, including New Mexico. 

Jaguars are apex predators, meaning they sit at the top of the food chain. They sometimes share territory with cougars, which are smaller big cats.

The ABQ BioPark is home to two jaguars—female Maya and male Manchas (Spanish for “spots”).

Jaguars are known for their intelligence and Manchas once displayed his smarts when a zookeeper asked for a behavior during a training session.  Manchas started to give an incorrect behavior, but he realized his error mid-way through. With no feedback from the zookeeper, he stopped, and then gave the correct behavior.

Maya and Manchas live in separate habitats on the catwalk. Zookeepers describe Manchas as “an old bachelor.” These solitary lifestyles aren’t uncommon among their kind, however—wild jaguars generally keep to themselves outside of mother-cub groups, courting and mating.   

For enrichment, Maya and Manchas enjoy balls, pumpkins and anything else they can dig their teeth and claws into. Cinnamon is one of their favorite scents—zookeepers sometimes put this spice inside a box to stimulate the jaguars’ sense of smell.

Like their wild counterparts, the BioPark’s jaguars can display a playful side. Manchas sometimes rolls and does what zookeepers call “happy paws.” Maya is a bit more in-your-face. 

Manchas vocalizes frequently, while Maya is quieter (females usually only vocalize during estrus).

Our Actions Matter 

The jaguar is listed as a near threatened species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and its numbers are declining due to habitat loss and fragmentation. The cat is also frequently killed by humans, particularly because of conflicts with ranchers and farmers.

You can help by supporting organizations like Panthera, which is working on the Jaguar Corridor Initiative to “serve the genetic integrity of the jaguar by connecting and protecting core jaguar populations in human landscapes from northern Mexico to northern Argentina.”