Historically, the jaguar was found as far north as the southwestern United States and as far south as southern Argentina (see map).
Today, however, stable jaguar populations are restricted to remnant patches between Northern Mexico and Northern Argentina, with the largest single contiguous habitat patch centered in the Amazon Basin. The jaguar has been nearly extirpated from the United States, and has historically been persecuted even in some of its remaining strongholds. For example, during the 1960’s 15,000 jaguar skins were being sold per year in the Brazilian Amazon.
Jaguars were historically found in all 6 major biomes in Brazil: the Amazon, the Caatinga, the Atlantic Forest, the Pantanal, the Cerrado, and the Pampa. Although jaguars still exist in 5 of these biomes, they have been extirpated from the Pampa, have undergone a loss of nearly 38% of their habitat in Brazil, and have undergone major declines in population in all regions. (citations 1,2)
Jaguars and threats where WCS works: the Amazon and Pantanal.
The Amazon, and especially the Brazilian portion of it, represents the largest contiguous area of habitat and the largest contiguous population of jaguars left on Earth, with likely more than 10,000 jaguars (citation 2). Because jaguars are a wide-ranging, apex predator that relies on many other species and healthy ecosystems to survive,the continued health of jaguar populations in the Brazilian Amazon is threatened by many human activities. These include obvious threats like deforestation to less obvious ones like building of dams that could negatively impact many ecosystems (e.g., flooded forests) and species (e.g., caiman) on which jaguar depend. In the near future, the 3 biggest threats to jaguars in the Amazon are:
- clearance of native ecosystems in which they live, especially for large-scale agriculture and ranching;
- direct killing of jaguars because of real or perceived conflicts with people (e.g.,the potential for jaguars killing people or cattle); and
- hunting by people of the prey that jaguar need to survive.
The Pantanal represents the second largest area of habitat and population of jaguars in Brazil, with around 5000 animals (citation 2). Jaguar populations in the Pantanal have historically been hurt by conversion of native ecosystems to ranch land and direct killing of jaguars because of conflicts with ranchers. Direct killing of jaguars is likely to continue to be the biggest threat in the near future.
1) Ramalho, E.E. 2012. Jaguar (Panthera onça) population dynamics, feeding ecology, humaninduced mortality, and conservation in the várzea floodplain forests ofAmazonia. Doctoral dissertation, University of Florida, USA.
2) Paula, R. C., A. Desbiez, S. M. C. Cavalcanti,editores. 2011. Plano de Ação para a Conservação da onça-pintada no Brasil:Análise da viabilidade populacional e adequabilidade ambiental. Série Espécies Ameaçadas. ICMBio. Brasília.