Jaguars: Surprising research results suggest path to survival

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The March, 2009 issue of National Geographic featured some of the most up to date research available about jaguars, the largest New World cat. One of the most startling revelations was that jaguars found from geographically diverse regions of Mexico, Central and South America share the same genes. In other words, despite their very wide distribution, there are no subspecies of jaguar, like there often are with other large carnivores dispersed over large ranges.

This is news to the zoo world and government agencies, which until recently, had been managing the animals as if there were different subspecies.

To explain why jaguars share the same DNA, "some of the cats must wander regularly and widely between populations" located in different regions. This is truly a remarkable feat given the explosion of human development, which has lead to a 50% decline in suitable jaguar habitat since the 1900s, according to the authors.

The good news is that small corridors of habitat, suitable for temporary jaguar travel but not permanent survival, still exists. These "patches" enable migrating animals to move from one suitable habitat location to another. Land that was once considered unusable for jaguar conservation is proving to be "crucial" to the long-term health and preservation of wild jaguars, by linking sustainable populations north and south, east and west.

According to the authors, the challenge going forward will be for national governments to work together to preserve these travel corridors, which can still be used for some human activities as well as temporary food and lodging for jaguars just passing through.

Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium has a long history displaying and educating the public about jaguars and other cat species. Many jaguars on display throughout North America today can trace their parentage to our original breeding pair of cats. Recently, a young male jaguar from another facility joined our collection and is now on display.

Grey Stafford, Ph.D. is the Director of Conservation and Communications at the Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium and author of the new pet-training book, " ". He appears frequently on 3TV with some of the zoo's fascinating animals.

Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium, which is located at 16501 W. Northern Ave., Litchfield Park, is open 365 days a year, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Daytime admission is $26.50 (plus tax) for adults and $14.25 (plus tax) for children 3 to 12; children 2 and younger get in free. Special evening admission to the Aquarium only is $16.99 (plus tax) for adults and $8.99 (plus tax) for children 3 to 12. For more information, call 623-935-WILD (9453) or visit .