Jaguars are the biggest feline in the Americas, and the third largest in the world, after tigers and lions. Their common name comes from the Indian word, yaguar, which means “he who kills with one leap,” a reflection of their killing style, while their scientific name, Panthera onca, means “hunter,” “hook” or “barb” and refers to their stealth and formidable claws. They look similar to leopards, except that jaguars are stockier, with shorter muscular limbs and smaller tails, and have spots inside their rosettes. Their camouflage spots (which are unique to each individual), specially padded paws (that mask noise when stalking), agile tree climbing abilities, strong jaws and powerful killing bite combine to make them stealthy and formidable hunters.
Jaguars have long been an important symbol in indigenous American Indian culture, with many Amazonian tribes believing the reflective glow of their eyes provided a link to the spirit world. However, not much is known about them.
Even though they are “ecological generalists,” meaning they’re found in different ecosystems, there aren’t many left. During the 1960s and 1970s, about 15,000 or more were killed for their dramatic fur. Now, estimates of their total populations range between 10,000 and 20,000. The IUCN Red List classifies them as near threatened, and they are protected under CITES Appendix I.