Black Jaguar

Panthera onca


Black jaguars are sometimes misidentified as black panthers, which are not actually a species but a term popularly used for melanistic leopards and jaguars which have dark pigmentation. Both black big cats are part of the genus Panthera but leopards are found in Africa and Asia while jaguars are found in the Americas.

In 2004, a camera trap in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains photographed the first documented black jaguar in Northern Mexico. Black jaguars were also photographed in Costa Rica's Alberto Manuel Brenes Biological Reserve, in the mountains of the Cordillera de Talamanca, in Barbilla National Park and in eastern Panama.

A rare variant within the jaguar species, it’s estimated only 11 per cent of jaguars have this dark colouration. But while the black jaguar may appear to be all black, it has spots like other jaguars called “rosettes”.

The jaguar is a compact and well-muscled animal. It is the largest cat native to the Americas and the third largest in the world, exceeded in size only by the tiger and the lion. It stands 26.8 to 29.5 inches tall at the shoulders. Exceptionally big males have been recorded to weigh as much as 348 lb.

Why They Matter

The adult jaguar is an apex predator, meaning it is at the top of the food chain and is not preyed upon in the wild. The jaguar has also been termed a keystone species, as it is assumed that it controls the population levels of prey such as herbivorous and seed-eating mammals and thus maintains the structural integrity of forest systems.

Conservation Status

Jaguar populations are listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Deforestation and poaching are just a couple of the threats contributing to their decline. The black jaguar’s range once spanned from the southern United States down to the tip of South America. But having been virtually eliminated from half of their historic range.