As we reported last month, jaguars (Panthera onca) are thriving in the forests of southeastern Peru that surround the Tambopata River, where we offer travelers from all over the world rainforest vacation itineraries.
This apex predator only breaks its solitary habits when searching for a mate. When jaguars seek a mate, their deep roars can be heard in the forest at night, as males and females engage in a ritual of call and response. When a male and female jaguar come together to breed, they can couple up to one hundred times in a single day, to ensure that copulation will be successful.
After mating, the male and female separate, returning to their individual lives. Following a gestation period of between 90 and 110 days, the female establishes the den where she will give birth to two or three cubs. At birth, jaguar cubs weigh between 600 and 900 grams (1.3 to 2 pounds). Their eyes remain closed for their first two weeks of life, and their coloration is the same as that of adult jaguars, except in the case of those jaguars born black. Less than 10% of jaguars are born black.
The female jaguar rears the cubs alone, and while she is nursing her young her behavior tends to be more aggressive than usual. The mother will not stray far from her cubs during their first days of life, restricting her movements to a fraction of her normally vast territory. During this period, if she believes the den she selected has become unsafe, she will move the cubs to another location, one at a time in her mouth.
Jaguar cubs will begin to eat meat after around two-and-a-half months, and by the age of three months they will be fully weaned. Only when the cubs are around six months old will they begin to leave their refuge and join their mother on hunting expeditions. Normally, jaguar cubs remain with their mother for around two years.
As they embark upon independent lives, adolescent jaguars must find and establish their own territory. This is perhaps the most hazardous time in a jaguar’s life, because as they venture into new areas of forest they run the risk of encountering mature jaguars or hunters. A single adult jaguar will usually patrol a territory consisting of around 25 to 50 square kilometers (10 to 20 square miles) of forest.
Jaguars reach their full size and sexual maturity at around the age of three. In the wild, on average jaguars are believed to live for between 10 and 12 years, although they can live for up to 16 years. In captivity, the average jaguar lifespan is around 20 years. During its life, a female jaguar may give birth to as many as 10 or 12 cubs.