The jaguar: a cultural icon of America

The Jaguar: A cultural icon of America

The Jaguar (Panthera onca) constitutes the great predator of the American jungles; it has been an important symbol for the different cultures that have inhabited the Continent. Its immense area of influence, from the South of the United States to the North of Argentina, has turned it into a cultural icon.

The Jaguar has had a cosmological, ritual, social and economic importance. It was also seen by the ancients as a being who could travel between the Worlds, as a powerful spirit capable of maintaining the balance between day and night; of preserving the balance between life and death. In some cultures, it is even assured that the Jaguar does not die, that its spirit endures in a special place in the Cosmos and in some cases it returns to the World of Humans, in its spiritual form.

The Jaguar among the Pre-Hispanic Cultures

The Olmecs built immense rocks in the shape of jaguar-men, considering it a powerful “Nahual”, an allied spirit that accompanied and protected the shamans as they moved between the Earthly world and the realm of spirits.

For the Mayans, the Jaguar was the guardian of the darkness, the guide of souls through the world of the dead, as well as the companion of the shamans in their spiritual journeys.

The Aztecs shared the Mayan´s vision of the Jaguar, and also used it as a War symbol, creating powerful elite of fierce fighters named “The Jaguar Warriors” who wore feline skins and masks to terrorize their enemies.

For the Chavin civilization (in ancient Peru) the Jaguar was seen as the perfect animal which was in total symbiosis with nature and was able to capture virtually any other animal.

The Current Situation of the Jaguar:

According to the study “The Jaguar in the 21st Century: The Continental Perspective” by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM, 2017)*, there are about 64,000 specimens in the American Continent and 34 subpopulations from Northern Mexico to Argentina of which 33 subpopulations are in danger or critical danger of extinction.

Of the total number of specimens, 90 % (57,000) is located in a single subpopulation in the Amazon (encompassing Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru), and because of its size, it is the only area that is not considered endangered.

In Mexico, more than 40% of Jaguar population has been lost. The best conserved populations are found in the South (Yucatan Peninsula, Chiapas and Oaxaca). It is estimated that there are around 4,000 specimens in the country.

Wild for Life Campaign

Since March 2017, the Hollywood Mexican actor, Gael Garcia Bernal, participates as Ambassador of the “Wild for Life” campaign, representing the emblematic Jaguar.