ANIMAL DIVERSITY: BIG CATS – JAGUARS AND LEOPARDS

Before I start telling you about two other gorgeous large cats, let me state that this post was one of the more difficult to do, and was a humbling experience.  I like to think that I am well versed concerning the animal kingdom, but while  as I researched information about the leopard and the jaguar, things became a bit convoluted.  See if you agree,

I was successful in photographing 1 leopard – right, just one – during my safaris in Africa – that is the picture at the top of this post.  The leopard is a solitary and very secretive cat and is mainly nocturnal. It is an agile climber and frequently stores the remains of its kills in the branches of a tree to avoid hyenas and other predators from stealing it.

My leopard as you see was in a tree, but it wasn’t eating or hiding its prey – it was taking a long snooze.  I wasn’t even sure I had sighted a leopard  for previous to this photo I had mistakenly thought many branches were the big cat – wishful thinking.  When I sighted this one, even the guide couldn’t tell what it was so I just took a bunch of shots, hoping for the best, with my 600mm zoom lens extended at its maximum.  The above photo has been cropped and enhanced.

This is what the tree looked like  at 300mm:

Here are a few alternate photos:

This next one startled me a bit, for as far away as I was, the leopard appears to be looking right at me:

Here are some  leopard facts:

  • Leopards rarely roar; their vocalizations are more like a raspy bark.
  • White spots on the tip of the tail and back of the ears help leopards locate and identify each other .
  • Fighting between males for mates and territory is fierce and can be deadly.
  • There are actually 9 recognized subspecies of leopard, with the African leopard most numerous at more than 700,000 animals
  • The population of 7800 leopards in India is believed to be slowly increasing
  • Some sub-species of leopards are considered very vulnerable:
    • Sri Lankan and Persian leopards endangered (population unknown)
    • Amar leopards (Russia) are critically endangered, with only 57 animals, and in China there are a scant 7-12

Now let’s turn to the jaguar, and you will start to see some of the difficulties I encountered.  While I did view them during my first trip to Costa Rica  I was unable to get photos so the ones here are from the internet. Officially the jaguar is stockier and more muscular than the leopard:

Jaguar: 299 pounds  Leopard:  143 pounds

Here is where it starts to get tricky.  Both cats  have coats that feature rosette patterns and both can have either golden colored fur or appear black, which is called melanistic (more on this melanistic version in a bit)

The key distinguishing feature between the two cats?  A  jaguar’s rosettes have spots inside them.  Here is a handy chart to show the difference:

However, even in photos I found it very difficult to set them apart, which makes some sense since their spots provide excellent camouflage.  Here are some jaguar  (I think), shots from the internet.  The first one is easy:

But up close it is less easy to discern:

Here are some other jaguar facts:

  • Jaguars and leopards can both swim very well but though jaguars love to spend time in the water, leopards will avoid it.
  • The jaguar’s  bite exerts more force than that of a lion.
  • Jaguars are braver than leopards when it comes to facing off with other species that are  bigger.
    • Leopards tend to shy away at the sight of a lion or hyena while jaguars  stand their ground or  attack anaconda or large caimans in their native habitats
  • The jaguar’s habitat once ranged  from Argentina  to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  Today  jaguars have been almost completely eliminated from the US and are endangered throughout their range, stretching down to Patagonia in South America with a population of about 15,000
  • The jaguar’s main  habitat is dense rainforest, but they are also found across forested areas and open plains.
  • Jaguars are also solitary big cats, only coming together to mate..

Now, remember that both leopards and jaguars sometimes are melanistic?  This is what that looks like:

In a jaguar, this black color is due to a dominant gene mutation – in leopards it is due to the recessive gene mutation, but the result is the same – a black coat  in which the background colour as well as the spots are black. This genetic mutation is most prevalent in jaguars.

Melanistic jaguars are  widely known as the black “panther”  Now this was a bit of a surprise as I had though a black panther was a separate species.

But here is another catch – in North America the term “panther” is often used for the cat known as a puma, which you might recall is in a different genus of non-roaring cats (Felis) from the jaguar and leopard which are in the genus Panthera.  To make things even more confusing, pumas are also known as cougars or mountain lions.  Wow.

Here is what the puma looks like, from the internet – as again though I have sighted pumas/mountain lions  on a few trips to the Southwest USA, and almost bumped into one when I was out to watch the sunrise in New Mexico,  it is still on my need to photograph list:

  • At an average 264 pounds, pumas/cougars/mountain lions are stocky, but not as large as Panthera cats.
  • Pumas are solitary cats and have the largest ranges of all wild terrestrial mammals in the Western Hemisphere, preferring dense underbrush and rocky areas for stalking, but it can also live in open plains, coniferous and tropical forests, swamps and deserts.  The male puma’s range can be close to 400 square miles
  • Their vocalizations include, screams, hisses, growls and purrs
  • Pumas are excellent jumpers, having the largest hind legs in the cat family – they can leap up to 18 feet in the air
  • They are also very fast – up to 35 miles an hour, and are also excellent climbers and swimmers
  • The puma population at about 50,000 individuals is considered near threatened  and hunting them is banned in many areas

Lastly, puma cubs are born with blue eyes, rings on their tails, and…spots! So there’s the connection!     I will end this post with two pics of these precious beauties:

 

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