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The Deadly Hunter

September 19, 2012

     The hunter silently paces, like a graceful dancer, back and forth, eyeing his prey. Slack-jawed in anticipation and concentration, he is also camouflaged by his full length coat, nearly indistinguishable from his surroundings.
     This nearly silent, nearly invisible hunter is the jaguar. He is the third largest of the big cats, behind the tiger and the lion, but is possibly the best hunter of them all.
     Panthera onca, as he is scientifically known, lives in South America and Central America. He ranges from Argentina, north to Mexico, and is sometimes seen as far north as Arizona and New Mexico. The ancient Mayans and Olmecs worshipped the jaguar for his skill as a hunter and built temples to honor him.
     Being a hunter, he is a carnivore, or “meat eater”. He doesn’t waste his time with green leaves or blades of grass. His diet consists of about 85 different species, including deer, tapirs, peccaries, dogs, frogs, mice, birds, fish, sloth, monkeys, turtles, capybaras, domestic livestock, such as cattle and horses, even anacondas and caiman, the smaller South American cousin of the crocodile.
The jaguar’s skill as a hunter is aided by his natural camouflage. His spots make him difficult to see in forested areas as they help him blend in with the surrounding plants and trees, almost like a chameleon, but without the color changing abilities.
     In addition to the common spotted jaguar, there is also the melanistic jaguar. The melanistic, or “black jaguar”, is much rarer, but is more common in the heavily forested areas than in the open ranges. The sleek black jaguar, often mistakenly called a “black panther”, is covered with black fur, but his spots may still be seen through his glossy, raven-colored fur.
     The jaguar is about three feet tall at the shoulder and from six to seven feet long, minus the tail. His strong, stocky build, powerfully muscular legs, and low center of gravity also help him to creep or crawl up to his prey, almost silently. His longer, more powerful, rear legs also enable him to leap on his prey from great distances or from trees.
     The jaguar is not afraid of heights or water. Not being afraid of water makes him fairly unique among the cat family. He is not the typically fussy feline. Jaguars will jump in water after fish and will wrestle caimans and anacondas in their element to have a meal. His great strength allows him to grip a carcass weighing up to 800 pounds in his jaw in order to drag it up into a tree for a solitary supper.
     That same jaw is the deadliest in the world of the big cats, in fact, it is the second deadliest of all land mammals next to the hippopotamus. The jaguar kills much of his mammal prey by biting down through the skull and piercing the brain with one bite. This is a skill unique among the felines that is believed to have originated with piercing the shells of turtles, tortoises and armadillos. For many of the other animals the jaguar hunts, he will clutch by the neck, suffocating them. This is the best method to kill an anaconda or caiman.
     He reserves a special technique for killing dogs. He will swipe them across the skull with his mighty paw, crushing it with one blow.
     Since the jaguar is an “apex” species, or a species at the top of his food chain, he rarely has any enemies. In fact, the jaguar’s deadliest enemy is man. Although jaguars will rarely attack man, only if cornered or after long fasting periods, man is not so respectful towards the jaguar. Jaguars have long been prized for their beautiful furs, or “pelts”. The killing of jaguars is now almost completely illegal in the areas in which the jaguar roams. The only legal killing of jaguars is done by owners of livestock protecting their livelihood.
     Due to the rampant hunting of jaguars over the past couple hundred years, the jaguar has all but disappeared from the face of the United States. However, with its “Endangered” status and killing it being made illegal, the jaguar is making a slow comeback in the Southwestern U.S. There have been recent sightings in Arizona and New Mexico.
     If you happen to go to a zoo or happen to be walking through the Arizona or New Mexico desert, and are lucky enough to see one of these beautiful beasts pacing back and forth, like a graceful dancer, sit back and watch in awe as this magnificent animal does what he does best. There is no other animal quite like this deadly hunter.


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