Changing Planet

Mapping and Protecting the Biggest Cat in the Americas

The purple regions in the map above show the known populations of jaguars. Explore an interactive version of the map which reveals the corridors between groups that allow these fragmented groups to function as one robust community. (Map by NGM Maps)

During the Ice Age, enormous saber-toothed cats took down huge prey across the New World. Today, while the long, lank mountain lion holds on in North America, the muscle-bound jaguar is the top of the food chain in the south.

Still, despite being able to sneak up on a caiman and take it down with a single bite (as seen in the video below), like other big cats around the world these legendary beasts face huge threats to their survival in the form of vast habitat loss and extensive hunting.

The map above shows just how little of their home continents jaguars continue to prowl. Explore the interactive version to discover the key corridors that connect these pockets and allow the flow of genes that keeps the overall jaguar population diverse, healthy, and fit for adaptation and survival.

Explore the World of Big Cats for Yourself

Now, as part of Big Cat Week on Nat Geo Wild you can join the conversation about conservation, and learn more about big cats from the experts who study them and work for their protection on December 3 at 1pm ET in a live video chat via Google+ Hangouts.

Hosting the event will be Luke Dollar, director of National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative and the scientist explaining the predator’s behavior in the “Jaguar vs. Caiman” video below, one of National Geographic’s most popular videos of all 2014.

Jag Stats

Weighing in from 100 to 250 lbs (45 to 113 kg) and stretching up to six feet (two meters) not counting the tail, jaguars are the third biggest of the big cats (tigers and lions being the top two).

While at first glance the spots on their coats may be confused with those of leopards or even cheetahs, the stocky body, slightly arched back, Schwarzenegger-like muscles, and rounded head make the living jaguar unmistakable on sight.

Honored (or feared), the jaguar has been a powerful presence in the thoughts and beliefs of native cultures for millennia. Now as hunting and development have whittled away its range and population, the once unassailable predator is largely at the mercy of humans who have at times viewed their gods in its image.

How to Participate in the Hangout

You can help us Cause an Uproar for big cats, and get answers to your burning questions about jaguars, other wild felines, and their world by taking part in our Google+ Hangout. Submit your questions by posting a question on Google+ or Twitter using #bigcats or commenting directly on this blog post.

Follow National Geographic on Google+ or return to this blog post to watch the Google+ Hangout Wednesday, December 3rd at 1 p.m. EST (6 p.m. UTC).

See more photos and read about jaguars in "Path of the Jaguars" from the March 2009 National Geographic Magazine. (Photo by Pete Oxford, Minden Pictures)
See more photos and read about jaguars in “Path of the Jaguars” from the March 2009 National Geographic Magazine. (Photo by Pete Oxford, Minden Pictures)

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Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.
  • Miranda Allison Young

    I have always loved all of the big cats. However, all species are endangered in one way or another. They need our protection. I am hoping that this show will have the effect of getting people involved in protecting them.

  • Stacey Georgia

    While living in Playa Carrillo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica, my boyfriend and I witnessed a Beautiful Jaguar cross a field, cross right in front of our vehicle and continue on into the jungle at dusk. We were speechless!!!!!! It was such a rare and amazing sight to see.

  • Ehran

    I live very close to the Coronado National
    Forest and Madera Canyon. The Santa Rita Mtn range from Sonoita on the South side of the distance and Green Valley to the North side is an area that thrives with wildlife diversity of species that I have been amazed by. The term for the area is a Sky Island…which is a very specific name because of the difference between the life zones in such a small area. I’m told that the difference between them is similar to someone traveling from the Sonoran Desert to British Columbia. A few details about a community of Jaguars on the South side of the Santa Rita Mtn range of sights of the Cat’s and pictures of them are documented and confirmed. I’m wondering if the weather or something else has been a factor in the movement of the animals into the area?

  • jan drobiak

    Smart looking and has a look that says fear and power in their beautiful markings. Sadly, that same pysioignomy presents them as a challenge for their largest predator, mankind that destroys everything in his path, including themselves.
    Also of interest is the black panther. Elusive, intelligent, and complex.

  • Andrew Mercer

    I used to live and work in the Pantanal region of Brazil. There are efforts to protect jaguars, but there have been scandals where so-called “conservationists” (e.g. Fazenda Santa Sofia) were caught running secret hunting tours. This also wiped out big cat species in the vicinity. How are you working with local law enforcement to ensure that laws are enforced, prosecutions and penalties are sufficient enough to be a deterent, and to bring local farmers onboard to protect the species?

    How do this strategy translate into areas on the Amazon where lack of enforcement and mere lip service on environmental issues by the government of Dilma Rousseff has seen an acceleration of deforestation and habitat loss?

  • Peter Murless

    The decline in larger wild cats is due to the fact that as we continue to increase in numbers, so there is less and less room for these animals..Also the religions Christianity,Islam,and Judaisim preach that all animals are there simply for us to make use of as we wish.Therefore deep down we dont respect animals.

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