April 28th was a rainy morning in San Diego, but at the San Diego Zoo, the forecast called for snow! One-year-old Jaguar cub Valerio and his mom, Nindiri, woke up to an unexpected surprise: piles of fresh, glistening snow blanketing their habitat.
According to staff, the duo appeared cautious when they entered their exhibit, stepping gingerly on the snow, unsure how to react to the novel substance. However, after a few minutes, the pair started exploring, climbing, searching for buried meatballs and showcasing their natural behaviors while enjoying their chilly enrichment surprise. Animal care staff said the cats’ personalities really shined through, and it was fascinating seeing them venture to parts of their habitat they normally wouldn’t explore that early in the day.
The 8-tons of fresh powder was provided through a generous donation, to the Zoo’s animal care wish list, as an enrichment item for the Jaguars. The San Diego Zoo provides enrichment for the animals in its care, in an effort to encourage their natural behaviors and an attempt to provide them opportunity to thrive. The snow day marked the first time this mom and cub have ever encountered snow.
The Jaguar (Panthera onca) is a feline in the genus Panthera and is the only extant species native to the Americas. It is the third largest feline after the tiger and the lion. Their native range extends from the Southwestern United States and Mexico, across much of Central America, and south to Paraguay and northern Argentina. Apart from a possible population in southern Arizona and the lower south of New Mexico, the species has been largely extirpated from the U.S. since the early 20th Century.
The Jaguar resembles the leopard, but it is usually larger, with behavioral characteristics closer to those of the tiger. They prefer dense, forested habitation. The Jaguar is largely solitary and is a stalk-and-ambush predator.
Gestation for Jaguars lasts 93-105 days, and females will give birth to up to four cubs (typical litters consist of two). The mothers do not tolerate the presence of males after giving birth (due to fear of infanticide). The young are born blind, and their eyes open at about 2 weeks. The cubs are weaned at three months, but they remain in the den for six months to learn hunting and life skills from the mother.
Unfortunately, demand for the Jaguar’s beautiful rosette-pattern fur is one of the reasons this species is listed as “Near Threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In addition, Jaguars are losing precious habitat, and human-Jaguar conflicts are causing their numbers to decrease rapidly. There are only an estimated 10,000 Jaguars left in the wild.
San Diego Zoo Global partners with the Wildlands Network and Latin American conservationists to study, monitor and protect Jaguars. Through those efforts, combined with educational outreach to local communities, the San Diego Zoo hopes to decrease human-Jaguar conflicts.
Zoo guests can visit Valerio, his mother Nindiri and their next-door lion mates, M’bari and Etosha, in their habitats at the Zoo’s Harry and Grace Steele Elephant Odyssey.