The jaguar is the third largest cat species on earth, smaller than only lions and tigers, and is one of several cat species that live in Manu Biosphere Reserve. While they now live only in the Americas, they are descended from Old World cats. Two million years ago, scientists believe, the jaguar and its closest relative, the similarly spotted leopard, shared a common ancestor in Asia.
Sightings can be rare, as this cat is solitary and very well camouflaged by the spotted pattern on it’s coat. It also isn’t very active during the day meaning you might have to stay up late in order to see one.
Unfortunately it is a near threatened species and its numbers are declining. Threats include loss and fragmentation of habitat. While international trade in jaguars or their parts is prohibited, the cat is still frequently killed by humans, particularly in conflicts with ranchers and farmers in South America. Although reduced, its range remains large. Because of this the jaguar has featured prominently in the mythology of numerous indigenous cultures, including the Maya and Aztec.
Despite this people do spot jaguars in and around Manu, they have a relatively high population here and are frequently caught on the many camera traps that are set up in the park.
However if the thought of bumping into a big cat is scary rather than thrilling for you, be reassured. Jaguars are shy and some of the least aggressive big cats so attacks on humans are virtually unheard of.