New study documents first male jaguar coalitions, challenging idea of species as strictly solitary
A new study co-authored by Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research (IVIC) and partners has found novel evidence of wild male jaguars forming coalitions and collaborating with each other to secure prey, improve chances of mating, and defend or expand their territories.
Long regarded as a solitary species, the findings suggest the Americas' largest wild cat is more social than previously believed, with unrelated males sometimes forming multi-year alliances in regions home to high prey and female jaguar densities.
Published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, this study demonstrates that other wild cats may also exhibit social behaviors, similar to cheetahs, lions, and now jaguars. Most wild cats are classified as solitary, showing limited social interactions with one another. Even cases of social tolerance at prey kill sites are considered to be rare.
The project involved data analysis from five studies that used camera trapping, GPS telemetry, and direct jaguar observations in the Venezuelan Llanos and Brazilian Pantanal, home to environments of forested savanna, flooded terrain and abundant aquatic and terrestrial prey. Out of more than 7,000 records, the team of researchers recorded 105 interactions between males, most of which (70) were classified as cooperation or forming of a coalition. Nine interactions were classified as social tolerance and just 18 were considered aggressive.
Some male jaguar coalitions were long-lasting. In two studies, two male jaguars formed stable partnerships that endured more than seven years each. In Brazil's southern Pantanal region, two males cooperated from 2006–2014, during which they patrolled territories together, communicated vocally with one other, shared a tapir kill, and even rested side by side. In the Llanos, each coalition male paired and mated with several female jaguars.
Deputy Director of Panthera's Jaguar Program, Dr. Allison Devlin, stated, "This novel finding shows that, when it serves their purpose of gaining greater access to prey, mates, and territory, wild male jaguars may collaborate, cooperate, and even form long-term relationships with former competitors."
Dr. Devlin continued, "The secret life of jaguars is more complex than previously thought. We still have so much to learn about the intricate lives of these secretive wild cats, with findings that can help scientists better conserve these species and the landscapes on which so many plant, animal, and human communities depend for their survival."
A number of behaviors observed in the male jaguars—patrolling and marking territory together, invading territories of other males, collaborative chasing and killing of other jaguars, and sharing prey—had been previously recorded in lions (which form prides) and cheetahs (which sometimes form male bachelor groups). However, compared to lions and cheetahs, the male jaguars spent less time together and did not cooperate with females to raise cubs. The jaguar coalitions were formed between a maximum of two unrelated males, unlike those observed in cheetahs and lions.
While high prey and female jaguar densities likely drove male jaguars to turn to these newly-observed social behaviors, this contrasts with previous data on lions, where male group size has correlated with female group size. Access to females may also drive the formation of male coalitions in cheetahs. High prey and female wild cat concentrations are likely drivers of social behavior across wild cat species.
While the authors emphasize the importance of this study, they warn that it does not demonstrate "evolution in action." A multi-generational study of population genetics would be necessary to support the hypothesis that these collaborative behaviors provide any evolutionary advantage to the offspring of these males.
A Washington Post op-ed published this week ahead of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity makes the case for utilizing wild cats like jaguars as indicators for the state of our planet's biodiversity and for climate change mitigation. Jaguar range is noted as overlapping with most of the Americas' tropical forests, providing 17% of the world's carbon storage and sequestration, benefitting 53 million people.
The largest cat in the Western Hemisphere, the jaguar is found from Mexico to Argentina. Despite this broad range, the species has been eradicated from nearly 50 percent of its historic habitat. Panthera's Jaguar Corridor Initiative works to connect and protect core jaguar populations across their six million km2 range, with scientists currently leading or supporting efforts in almost a dozen jaguar range states.
In the Colombian Llanos, the Brazilian Pantanal, and other Latin American countries, Panthera works to mitigate human-jaguar conflict through conservation demonstration ranches, carry out conservation education initiatives, foster ecotourism industries, and more. In both regions, tourists can observe jaguars in the wild, including across flooded forested savannas with high wildlife visibility.
Ethical ecotourism operations habituate jaguars to the presence of humans (when maintaining a legal and safe distance, while remaining in boats or vehicles). Such ethical practices allow people to observe jaguars engaging in natural behaviors. Ethical ecotourism operations offer unprecedented opportunities to monitor jaguar behavior through methods including citizen science.
More information: Włodzimierz Jędrzejewski et al, Collaborative behaviour and coalitions in male jaguars (Panthera onca)—evidence and comparison with other felids, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology (2022). DOI: 10.1007/s00265-022-03232-3
Journal information: Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Provided by Panthera