Boat rides on the Tambopata River occasionally result in sightings of a Jaguar (Panthera onca), the largest cat in the Americas. Although guests visiting Tambopata eco-lodges run by Rainforest Expeditions can’t expect to see this near mythical feline on every visit to the Peruvian jungle, they do have a better chance of seeing it while traveling along wild areas the Tambopata Reserve than many other places in its range.
Jaguars are regularly seen in the Tambopata region because this huge area of wild forests and wetlands plays host to plenty of peccaries, tapirs, and other animals that are preyed upon by the neotropical king of the jungle. In addition, much of the Tambopata River between Refugio Amazonas and the Tambopata Research Center is strictly protected wilderness and this part of the river is precisely where these big cats are occasionally seen. They also occur in the forests near Posada Amazonas but apparently don’t feel as comfortable about sitting out on the shore as they do further upriver.
Some interesting facts about the Jaguar:
- A beast of a name: The word “Jaguar” is a modern version of “yaguara”, a term from one of the Brazilian Tupi-Guarani languages that means “beast”.
- One of the “big cats”: The Jaguar belongs to the same genus as the Tiger, Lion, Leopard, Snow Leopard, and Clouded Leopard. These species are often referred to as the “big cats” and share a common ancestor.
- Water loving: Jaguars have no qualms about taking to the water in pursuit of prey or when crossing a river. They will rush into wetlands to pursue capybaras and will even take small caimans. They have been occasionally seen swimming across the Tambopata by macaw project volunteers and guests of the Tambopata Research Center.
- Rosettes, not spots: One of the ways to tell a Jaguar from the similar looking Leopard is by the pattern on its coat. As opposed to spots shown by Leopards, Jaguars have rosettes or distinct groupings of three or four dark markings that surround a smaller spot
- Widespread but rare: Jaguars historically ranged from the southeastern United States south throughout the neotropics to eastern Argentina. They quickly disappear from areas impacted by people and are listed as Near Threatened by conservation authorities.