The purrfect gift: a jaguar

The purrfect gift: a jaguar

Richard Mahler
Published: 12/24/2009

Looking for a gift suitable for giving not only during the holiday season, but year-round? May I suggest a jaguar. The cat, not the car.

Several worthy organizations encourage the “adoption” of this endangered species through donations that support either the care of individual captive jaguars in zoos or the conservation of specific specimens being studied in the wild. A quick Internet search under the phrase “adopt a jaguar” will yield a number of options that financially benefit the important work these groups are doing.

Of course, donors obtain no literal ownership interest in a certain animal, but gain the satisfaction of helping keep the big cats (collectively) alive, well, and under some degree of protection. But in some cases, a donation really is directed toward the care of a particular critter. You, like me, can receive a picture or certificate acknowledging your support of this lucky feline.

Having spent the past five years studying and writing about jaguars, I am convinced they need and deserve all the help they can get, including private donations from people like us. As with all other large cats, the existence of this species in the wild is threatened by habitat loss, illegal hunting, and a declining prey base. Jaguars reproduce slowly and face genetic bottlenecks as they are increasingly cut off from one another by human activity and development. No more than 400 captive jaguars exist, compared to the thousands of lions and tigers held by zoos around the world.

A gift of adoption supports researchers who study jaguars as well. Besides living in remote and challenging terrain, these animals are famously secretive and elusive, which makes them expensive to study. Some field biologists specializing in the species never glimpsed one at all, depending instead on motion-triggered camera traps set up in remote locations. Costs of this kind of study are double what might be expected. The rosette patterns on a jaguar’s fur are as unique as fingerprints and different on each side. In order to track the cat properly, it is necessary to photograph both flanks of a jaguar to identify it definitively.
Gifts that support wildlife conservation are always in season. As opportunities arise, I hope you will be generous in helping save the wild jaguars.