Posts Tagged ‘jaguar’

The jaguar


If you were ever to ask me what my favorite big is, I would not hesitate to tell you it’s the jaguar.

It actually still enthralls me that jaguars were once fairly numerous in the United States. How numerous is up to a bit of debate, but they were found throughout Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. They were also found in much of Louisiana, but there are accounts of them coming as far east as North Carolina and maybe as far north as Kentucky or Ohio.  These accounts have always been regarded as urban legends, but one must keep in mind that the jaguar actually evolved in the Old World before entering the New. There was actually a jaguar species or paleosubspecies found all over Europe up until 1.5 million years ago. In order for jaguars to get here, they had to go through the very cold land of the Bering Land Bridge, so our common notion that jaguars were always a tropical or semi-tropical species is a bit in error.

The jaguar is the only surviving Pantherine cat in the Americas. There was also a lion species or paleosubspecies that lived in both North and South America, but it is now long gone.

Humans have been hard on big cats. We’ve extirpated the lion from Europe and all of Asia but the Gir Forest. We made several populations of lion and leopard threatened with extinction, and we’ve waged such a successful war on the tiger that there is a very good chance that it won’t be known in the wild within just a few decades.

There is no breeding population of jaguars in the United States anymore. They were killed off for their pelts and because jaguars do kill horses and livestock.

But every few years, a jaguar is captured on trail camera or winds up being bayed up by cougar hounds. It’s said to be a wanderer and very little is done about it.

We used to be a big cat nation, but now we don’t even consider those that do wander up from Mexico to be native. The idea of a jaguar in this country is at once romantic but also repugnant. We might lose our minds as we debate wolf reintroduction, but no one talks about the “Texas leopard” anymore.

It’s much a phantom as the American lion, the European jaguar, and the Smilodon are.

I can remember the first time I laid eyes upon a jaguar. It was at the Cincinnati Zoo when I was about 5 years old. There were two jaguars in a large enclosure that was surrounded by thick glass. The spotted one was reclining in the background, but the black one was lying up against the glass. My dad had me sit next to the glass and pretend to pet the great beast, which paid me no mind at all as my dad recorded it on a VHS cassette.

Every time I see a photo or film of a black jaguar, I think of that one.

It never lived wild. it never killed a deer or a horse.

Yet it still had all the essence of a big cat.  Smooth and gliding, yet chiseled and sharp. Like cutlasses on springs.

We turned the wolf into a symbol of wilderness, and we managed to restore to it. And now we fight about the best way to manage them, but the idea of jaguars in the Southwest or Louisiana or Texas just sounds like a fools’ mission.

The wolf of the Northern Rockies and the Midwest’s North Country survived by romanticism, but el tigre never got the same treatment.

He will not wander the White Mountains of Arizona or the piney river bottoms of Louisiana. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has decided that this animal lived here only at the margins of its habitat. Never mind the extensive records of these animals in the United States.

The species just can’t be preserved here.

I suppose we have a bit of Trumpism in our ideas of what an American native species is. A wolf sounds like it belongs here.

A jaguar doesn’t.

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Amazing amateur video!


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This "jaguar" was photographed via camera trap near Guelph, Ontario. No scale is given to figure out how big this cat is, and if it is cougar-sized, the dismissal of this animal's identity as black cougar "because no black cougar has been spotted in North America" is one of the dumbest things I've ever read. It doesn't matter that no one has never seen a black cougar in North America before. No one has ever seen a jaguar in Canada!

Cougars have re-established themselves in Ontario, which means that cougars are recolonizing the Eastern parts of North America using the same path through the Great Lakes region that Western coyotes used decades before. Western coyotes crossed with the few remaining wolves in the region became the modern Eastern coyote.

The evidence for cougars in Ontario comes from this recent paper by Rick Rosatte that was based upon camera trap images.  Cougars are in Ontario.

However, the camera traps also caught images of a black cat, which Rosate claims are jaguars or some exotic species. His reasoning behind calling these animals exotic is that no black cougar has been seen in North America.

The image above was captured near the city of Guelph. Guelph is a mid-sized city, roughly halfway between Michigan and New York State in that part of Southern Ontario that bridges the two states.

No scale is given in the photograph to give us any idea of the size of the cat.  I don’t know how we know this animal is large. It could be a  black domestic cat. One cannot even get a good  look at the ears of the cat, which do appear to be rounded, but that rounded shape could just be how the cat is holding its ears in the photo.

But if the animal is the size of a cougar, then it is much more likely that it is a black cougar than some exotic species.


Because jaguars don’t live in Canada. Their range in the United States is horribly truncated. One wanders up into Arizona or New Mexico every couple of years, but they once ranged up to the Grand Canyon and as far east as western Louisiana. Incidentally, those places are nowhere near Canada.

Further, no black jaguar has been spotted in North America– ever.  All North American jaguars, which live in Mexico and Central America, are spotted.

They are not well-adapted to living in frigid climates. Although they were wide-ranging in North America during the Pleistocene, modern jaguars have never been found in places where the winters are as harsh as they are in Ontario.

Now, someone will say “What about a leopard? Don’t leopards live in the Russian Far East, Manchuria, and North Korea?”  They do, but that’s only one subspecies. The Amur leopard is a specialized subspecies of leopard that has evolved to live in very cold conditions, and there are leopards in Central Asia that have adapted to colder climates.

All of these leopards are from subspecies in which only spotted individuals exist.

Black leopards are found only in certain tropical subspecies. Leopards on the southern end of the Malay Peninsula are always black. A huge percentage of the isolated leopards in Java are black, too. And most captive black leopards derive from these southeast Asian populations. There are some black leopards in Africa, especially in the Kenyan Highlands, which are about the only temperate place where black leopards can be found.

It is theoretically possible for a black leopard to survive in the marine temperate climate of Great Britain, but it is a stretch to think that leopard from tropical population could survive in Southern Ontario.

The greatest likelihood is that this cat is a domestic cat, but the second greatest likelihood is that it is a black cougar, the first of its kind documented on this continent. There have always been reports of black cougars.  The skin of one was described in 1960.  The cat was killed in Colorado, but the skin has been lost to time. A black cougar was supposedly killed in Costa Rica, which is also in North America, but it may have been a misidentified jaguarundi, which are the cougar’s closest relatives but are much smaller.

I think there is almost no chance of this animal being a jaguar or a leopard.

And until someone gives me some scale for this image, the best assumption is that it is a domestic cat.

And if it’s big, it’s very likely a black cougar, a phase that hasn’t been fully documented in North America before.

I think Rosatte’s assumptions are way off here.  A cougar can survive in Ontario. A tropical leopard or a South American jaguar would have a very hard time surviving there. The only black leopards that are found in temperate areas are not the primary source for captive black leopards, and no black jaguar has been confirmed outside of South America.

So if this is a big cat, it has to be a black cougar, regardless of whether one has been spotted in North America before or not.

But my money is on it being a domestic cat.

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Photo by Steffen Schellhorn.

These unusual white jaguar cubs were born at the Aschersleben Zoo in the state of Saxony-Anhalt in Germany.

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Jaguar spotted in Arizona

Arizona jaguar. Not the one in the article.

I love using that “spotted” pun for spotted cats.

From The Arizona Daily Star:

A hunter photographed an adult male jaguar in Southeast Arizona after his dogs treed it, Arizona Game and Fish Department officials said Monday.

The sighting Saturday in Cochise County was the first confirmed report of a wild jaguar in the United States since the death of Macho B in Arizona in March 2009. It may have been the fifth wild jaguar – all males – seen in Arizona since 1996. The jaguar is listed as an endangered species in the United States and Mexico.

An experienced mountain lion hunter spotted the jaguar Saturday morning about 15 feet up a mesquite tree and reported it to Game and Fish. The hunter was led to the large cat by his dogs, who were baying and starting to pursue the animal as if on the trail of a lion, said Mark Hart, a Game and Fish spokesman.

Officials said the hunter had not given permission to release his name, and the department declined to specify the location.

The hunter photographed and shot video of the jaguar, then left with his dogs and watched the animal from a distance. The jaguar stayed in the tree for 15 minutes before jumping down and heading south.

Based on the photos and video, Game and Fish officials described the jaguar as an adult male that appeared healthy and weighed about 200 pounds. Game and Fish biologists went to the sighting location to verify that the photos and videos were taken there, Hart said.

“It all checked out,” Hart said. “We started at the exact same point where they (the photos and video) were shot. We saw tree branches where they were supposed to be, and they absolutely looked the same as in the photos. We counted about 10 marks of claws where a large animal had climbed the tree.”

The biologists also collected hair samples from the area for possible DNA testing.

Game and Fish officials said they saw the photos and video in the hunter’s possession, but don’t have their own copies yet to release publicly.

The department hopes to compare the photos with those of other jaguars sighted in Arizona and of two jaguars photographed this year by remote cameras at a ranch in Sonora about 30 miles south of the border, Hart said.

“I think it will be critical for them to compare the rosettes” – a jaguar’s unique spots – “with photos of the two cats from Sonora, and not just Arizona records,” said Melanie Emerson, director of the Sky Island Alliance, the Tucson conservation group whose cameras photographed the Sonoran jaguars.

The last known jaguar in the United States, 15-year-old Macho B, was euthanized in March 2009 at the Phoenix Zoo after he was captured just north of Mexico, radio-collared and recaptured 12 days later after he slowed dramatically. Authorities determined he had unrecoverable kidney failure, but the death led to one state and two federal investigations, including a federal criminal investigation that ended last May. The state investigation is continuing.

Otherwise, none of the four male wild jaguars previously seen in Arizona in the last 15 years have been reported since 2006. Because none were female, some scientists have said Arizona no longer has a resident jaguar population.

Environmental groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity have said they believe Arizona jaguars could breed again with stronger recovery efforts, and their litigation forced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to start to prepare a jaguar recovery plan last year.

“It is good news, but it’s not a surprise,” Sky Island wildlife biologist Sergio Avila said of the latest sighting. “Jaguars don’t think in terms of countries – they think in terms of the land. This is just proof that the land can sustain jaguars.”

But since this is another male, “I would guess” that Arizona jaguars will be limited to surplus males that have reason to migrate from Mexico, said Larry Audsley, the Arizona Wildlife Federation’s Southern Arizona regional director.

“Whenever that happens, some people will get excited, and there will be applications for funding to go study it, but the presence of one male jaguar has no ecological significance,” Audsley said. “What would make a difference is discovering a female jaguar because that opens the possibility of a breeding population.”

Regardless of the ecological significance, the public should be thrilled by this sighting, Game and Fish’s Hart said.

“This is another example of biodiversity in the region … whether the scientific community deems it significant or not, that’s not as important to us as letting the public know there is a male jaguar in Southeast Arizona,” Hart said.

Audsley said that assuming this jaguar is healthy enough, authorities should try to capture and radio-collar him, to learn where he actually goes.

“Just because you know where it was when it was photographed, that can be a place where it doesn’t go very often. To really know, you need a collar on him, even with the risks.”

But the department has no plans to try to capture this animal, or to even discuss that possibility, Hart said. The agency drew widespread criticism over the 2009 Macho B capture, which occurred during a state-run study of black bear and mountain lions. They denied playing any role in engineering the Macho B capture. A private biologist who admitted to trying to capture the animal, Emil McCain, was working as a state subcontractor until a few months before the capture occurred.

Before authorities capture another jaguar, they should at least have a blueprint for recovering the species, and explain what they would do with information they would get from collaring another one, said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Jaguars lived at least as far north as the Grand Canyon as far east as southwestern Louisiana.

During the Pleistocene, they were found up into Tennessee and as far east as the Florida Peninsula.

My guess is this cougar hunter was a little shocked to see this great spotted cat– el tigre es en el norte.



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Teddy Roosevelt hunted jaguars in Brazil with dogs that were said to be part maned wolf.

From TR’s Through the Brazilian Wilderness (1914):

The dogs were a wild-looking set. Some were of distinctly wolfish appearance. These, we were assured, were descended in part from the big red wolf [maned wolf] of the neighborhood, a tall, lank animal, with much smaller teeth than a big northern wolf. The domestic dog is undoubtedly descended from at least a dozen different species of wild dogs, wolves, and jackals, some of them probably belonging to what we style different genera. The degree of fecundity or lack of fecundity between different species varies in extraordinary and inexplicable fashion in different families of mammals. In the horse family, for instance, the species are not fertile inter se; whereas among the oxen, species seemingly at least as widely separated as the horse, ass, and zebra—species such as the domestic ox, bison, yak, and gaur—breed freely together and their offspring are fertile; the lion and tiger also breed together, and produce offspring which will breed with either parent stock; and tame dogs in different quarters of the world, although all of them fertile inter se, are in many cases obviously blood kin to the neighboring wild, wolf-like or jackal-like creatures which are specifically, and possibly even generically, distinct from one another. The big red wolf of the South American plains is not closely related to the northern wolves; and it was to me unexpected to find it interbreeding with ordinary domestic dogs (pg. 74).

Roosevelt was wrong about the origins of the domestic dog.  We know that domestic dogs are just a form of wolf (Canis lupus). However, at the time, virtually everyone believed that various types of jackal, even the ones that have never been known to inbreed with dogs, were in the mix. African wild dog  (Lycaon pictus) and dholes (Cuon alpinus) have also been claimed as possible ancestors of the domestic dog, but no one has produced a hybrid from a domestic dog and these animals. We now know that dogs, including New Guinea singing dogs and dingoes, fit within the wolf species and can interbreed with coyotes, golden jackals, and Ethiopian wolves.

There have always been persistent rumors of other wild dogs interbreeding with dogs. The most common unsubstantiated dog/wild dog hybrid is a hybrid between a black-backed jackal or a side-striped jackal, which both belong to the genus Canis, but no confirmed hybrids between these species and domestic dogs have ever been documented. However, in the nineteenth century, there were many claims that red foxes had crossed with dogs. Such crosses, if they ever existed, would have likely been sterile, because foxes and dogs have vastly different chromosome numbers.

Both of hybrids between dogs and  the endemic African jackals of foxes are probably urban legends.

However, I have also come across supposed crosses between domestic dogs crab-eating foxes, which are a South American wild dog species. South American wild dogs, some of which are called foxes, are actually much more closely related to the true dogs in the genus Canis than they are to the red fox and its closest relatives.

I don’t know if the existence of these animals has ever been verified, so I am very skeptical.

But there is another possibility:  the Brazilians could have had a domesticated maned wolf that could be used as a hunting dog.

The natives of Tierra del Fuego had domesticated the culpeo, another South American wild dog that is sometimes called a fox or zorro, and may have used them to hunt otters.

However, if look at the context of Roosevelt’s description of the dogs, they were being used to hunt jaguars.

I know of no single account of a maned wolf approaching a jaguar for any reason. Maned wolves are not really equipped to hunt large game and are not competitors with the jaguar in any way. Further, they don’t hunt in packs, which they would have had to do if they were going to cause a jaguar any trouble. Domestic dogs are better equipped to chase jaguars because they do have a pack hunting heritage that they receive from the wolf, but it is unlikely that any supposed domesticated maned wolf would be a pack hunter that would readily pursue a jaguar.

My guess is that Roosevelt saw some particularly rangy domestic dogs with reddish-colored fur that the Brazilian claimed came from the maned wolf. They likely never saw the dog mate with the maned wolf. It may have been nothing more than a claim that was used to sell the puppies.

I would love for this story to be true, but in light of what is already known about hybridization within the dog family, I am very skeptical.


It might be useful to have a look at the phylogenetic tree of the dog family that was drawn after the domestic dog’s genome was sequenced.



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Latvian-born celebrity hunter Sasha Siemel (Aleksandrs Ziemelis) with some of his jaguar skins.

He was kind of like the Brazilian Davy Crockett, killing jaguars that were preying upon cattle in the Patanal. He was famous for being the first white man to kill a jaguar with a spear.



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The spotted one is a jaguar/leopard hybrid. My understanding is that Haldane’s Rule applies to this hybrid, and the males are sterile.


I had not seen this actual hybrid before. However, I had seen what happens when a female jagulep is bred to male lion.

I have not looked at the evolution of these Panthera species, but I thought that lions and leopards were more closely related to each other than to jaguars.

I could be wrong, of course, because this blog’s name isn’t “Big Cat Man.” I am just not up to date on the genetics of these animals.

Also see  the Congolese spotted lion.

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I’m bored with writing dog stuff, so I think I’m going to do some wildlife stuff today.

I swear we’ll be back on dogs tomorrow. Tomorrow is Easter for most Christians, so I think I’ll do something on rabbits and Pagan religions.

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Sign the petition.

Jaguars used to be found as far north as the Grand Canyon, and their historical range may have extended as far north as Oregon and as far east as North Carolina.

For more info, check out the Northern Jaguar Project, which is a conservancy that is trying preserve jaguars in northern Mexico and the United States.

Jaguars are the only true big cats in the Americas. All true big cats cats are either in the genus Panthera or are closely related to  that genus. The closest relative of the cougar is the jaguarundi, which is a very small cat, so cougars are technically not big cats.

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