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A male jaguar may reach over six feet in length !!

Cats and monkeys, monkeys and cats – all human life is there. ~ The Madonna of the Future, Henry James, 1843-1916

The king of the jungle is the jaguar (tigre), the largest of the NewWorld cats. It holds a special place in indigenous culture: it is the form taken by the sun when it descends into the underworld at nightfall. Its image symbolizes power and strength.

A male jaguar may reach over six feet in length and can weigh in at 136 kilograms (300 lbs). Its short coat, spotted much like a leopard, ranges from grayish- gold to reddish-tan, with spots grouped in small circles known as rosettes. Unlike the leopard, however, the jaguar’s rosettes surround solid spots.

Occasionally, jaguars are black all over. Jaguars feed on tapirs, peccaries, foxes, turtle eggs, rodents, even deer – but rarely man. Because of the dwindling habitat – each big cat requires a forested area of 100 square miles – they are vulnerable to extinction in Central America.

The jaguarundi (león breñero) is the smallest cat, with a low-slung long body resembling that of a weasel. Jaguarundi range in color from brown to gray and are slightly larger than a household cat. They stand 14 inches at the shoulders and weigh as much as nine kilograms (20 lbs). Asinuous tail takes up nearly half of the cat’s 35- to 55-inch length. Already a rare animal, it’s becoming rarer as its natural habitat in wild thickets and lowland forests is cut and burned for ranching.

The ocelot (manigordo) is one of Latin America’s most beautiful and rare cats, noted for its creamy tan fur and dark spots with open centers. Ocelots usually weigh from 20 to 32 lbs and grow to 33-40 inches in length. Like most wild cats, they maintain territories marked by their scents. They’re solitary ground hunters, but are agile enough to climb trees if threatened. Their main predator is man, who values their fur for coats. They are a protected endangered species – so poachers do the only hunting.

The puma, which is also native to the United States and Canada, is otherwise known as the cougar or mountain lion. A full-grown male puma may be nearly as big as a jaguar and weigh 91 kilograms (200 lbs). Its soft fur coat runs from reddish to gray to brown. This big cat is an amazingly agile climber, able to leap 13 meters (40 feet) in length and an astounding five meters (15 feet) high. The puma can successfully drop from a height of 18 meters (56 feet).

You’ll have to be very lucky to see any of these felines in the wild; we were thrilled to have a jaguarundi cross our path when we were on the Nicoya Peninsula.

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