October 19, 2016
Lithe, beautiful, and strong these big cats are regarded as the bravest and fiercest of animals whose cautious, wise, and proud disposition made it the ruler of the animal world - move over Lion King and make room for the America’s largest feline, the Panthera Onca. The Panthera Onca, more commonly known as the jaguar, is native to South and Central America with its habitat ranging from Mexico to Argentina, and occupying eighteen countries in total.
Not only does the jaguar live in wide and varied range of areas, but it also has deep cultural connections with the ancient peoples who lived there. In Central and South America ethnographic data reveals a close symbolic relationship between the jaguar, social status, warfare, and wielding of spiritual and political power by shamans and chiefs. These connections are present in the dress and accoutrements of civilizations such as the Maya and the Aztec. For example, specifically strong, high status members these societies, such as warriors and rulers, used the jaguar to signify their high status by owning jaguar themed clothing, accoutrements, paraphernalia, as well as jaguar shaped thrones and cushions made from jaguar pelts. Killing a jaguar was a way to obtain such a social standing, and although that practice has died out jaguars are still being hunted and threatened for other reasons.
Jaguars may live abundantly in some regions of South and Central America, but their habitat has decreased significantly, by forty percent, with their population along with it. This decrease in territory is due to agricultural land development which fragments the forest areas in which they live and drives out their natural prey, leaving the populations isolated and forced to prey on domestic animals. Due to the loss of livestock, jaguars are perceived as a threat by locals and are hunted in retaliation, and were, during the 1960’s and 1970’s, heavily hunted for their pelts. As such, jaguars are now listed as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and will most likely be elevated to “Vulnerable” in the near future.
There are many conservationist organizations that seek to re-establish the Panthera Onca habitat and rebuild the population. The Panthera’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative, for one, is a conservation program which protects jaguars and their habitats by managing critical protected areas and advocating protected areas where needed in addition to collaborating with locals to increase human tolerance and understanding of these big cats and preserving their ties to the land both physically and culturally.
The Jaguar is featured in our 67% Dark Blend chocolate!
Sources and links:
Saunders, Nicholas J. "Predators of Culture: Jaguar Symbolism and Mesoamerican Elites." World Archaeology 26.1 (1994): 104-17. Web.
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