Jaguars are elusive and solitary animals. As a threatened species, their reduced numbers impedes scientists’ abilities to observe them. According to Big Cats Rescue, they are active 50 to 60 percent of the day. Because their natural habitat is in dense jungles, observing their daily behavior has been difficult for scientists to do. Jaguars are fairly easy to observe in captivity, as most zoos have them on display, but their daily habits vary significantly from captivity to the wild.
Jaguars spend a large portion of their daily lives napping while draped across a branch of a tree hidden in the tropical forest. They seek the shade of the trees to protect them from the heat and to offer a secure place to nap during the daytime. If at all possible, a jaguar will select an area that is near a slow-moving river or some other water source like a lake or wetlands. Unlike most cats, jaguars are excellent swimmers and enjoy the water.
Daily life in the trees gives the jaguar a distinct advantage when it is hunting. Jaguars stealthily track prey and ambush them in a lightning fast attack, often killing with a single bite to the neck. They spend both days and nights hunting for anything from mice to deer. Jaguars are also masterful fishers. While they are playing and swimming in the water and the opportunity presents itself, they flip a fish onto the bank and pierce it with their claws.
Reproducing and Family Life
During the days of mating season, a female jaguar invites males into her territory by vocalizing. After she gives birth, her days are filled with caring for her litter of cubs. The cubs stay with her 24 hours a day until they are a year or two old. She takes them out on daily hunts once they are 6 months old. Prior to six months, the cubs spend their days playing and waiting for mom to bring them food. Big cat behavior experts Fiona and Mel Sunquist found some habits that contradicted what scientists believed about jaguar familial relationships and how often they see each other. Whereas males leave their mother’s territory and set off to establish their own routines and hunting grounds, females claim a territory near their mother’s and other female relatives. Although adult jaguars neither hunt together nor share territories with others, females do keep track of each other’s daily hunting activities through territorial scent marking and frequently see each other along common boundaries, the Sunquists report in "National Wildlife" magazine.
Jaguars in captivity don’t have to hunt for food since they have daily delivery service courtesy of zookeepers. Most jaguar habitats in zoos and conservatories provide plenty of shade and low branches to give these large cats a place to take daily naps. Zoos often have pools in the jaguar exhibits for the big cats to frolic in the water. In the “Journal of Applied Animal Welfare and Science,” Rebecca Sellinger and James Ha explained their research on how zoo visitors impacted the daily behavior of jaguars. They discovered that jaguars paced due to the stress and frustration of their inability to carry out their nature daily routines and behaviors. Sellinger and Ha found that the pacing increased as the number of visitors and noise level increased.
- A-Z Animals: Jaguar
- Tropical-Rainforest-Animals.com: Jaguar Animal: One of the Largest Cats in the World
- Society and Animals Forum: The Effects of Visitor Density and Intensity on the Behavior of Two Captive Jaguars (Panthera Onca)
- Big Cat Rescue: Jaguar Facts
- National Wildlife Federation: New Look at Cats
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Based in Las Vegas, Sandy Vigil has been a writer and educator since 1980. She taught high school and middle school English and drama for 11 years. Vigil holds a Master of Science in teaching from Nova Southeastern University and a Bachelor of Arts in secondary English education from the University of Central Oklahoma.