The largest cat in the Western hemisphere - and the third largest in the world after lions and tigers - the jaguar can grow to 300 pounds and more than 6 feet long. Often confused with leopards, jaguars may be distinguished by the additional spots in the center of its rosettes, stockier body and shorter limbs.
The range of the jaguar extends from the southwestern United States through Mexico and Central America as far south as Patagonia. Typically, it prefers dense jungle, scrubland and shoreline forests, although it may inhabit open areas if prey and water are available.
An excellent swimmer and strong climber, the jaguar often waits in trees for its prey, relying on proximity rather than sustained speed in hunting. Its strong jaws usually kill with one bite, and its diet ranges from smaller mammals like peccaries (relatives of feral pigs) and capybaras (large rodents) to prey such as deer, mountain sheep and domesticated livestock.
Because of deforestation and hunting, jaguars are increasingly threatened. Hunting for pelts has severely declined since the 1970s, but farmers sometimes still kill jaguars because they are seen as threats to livestock. Believed to be extirpated in the United States in the 1990s, one jaguar was spotted in 2010 in the boot heel of New Mexico by a rancher, who is also a member of the Malpai Borderlands Group.May 07, 2012