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Jaguar cubs are doing fine, zoo says

They'll stay with mom for a year or so, then be shipped out

Dec. 19, 2012

Two jaguar cubs born last month will be visited by veterinarians and get their shots next week, said Tim Wild, curator of large mammals at the Milwaukee County Zoo.

"They're doing very good, they're starting to explore on their own a lot more, they're moving around a little bit," he said.

The cubs were born Nov. 13, and the birth was announced by the zoo last week. The waiting period before announcement is a fairly standard zoo practice "just to make sure things are going well," Wild said. "The mom has never had cubs before. Sometimes first-time mothers don't do a really good job. … We kind of keep an eye on it, make sure they're really raising the cubs, the cubs are thriving."

Sometimes, he said, big cats intentionally kill their cubs, "but she's doing a great job."

Stella is the mother, and Pat, a 14-year-old cat born wild, is the father.

Large and powerful cats

Jaguars in the wild are carnivores, and live at the top of the food chain. They rank roughly third in size among big cats, behind lions and tigers, Wild said. They are the largest cats found in the Western Hemisphere, with a range that includes parts of Central and South America. They once roamed the southern United States, but no longer, Wild said. Their preferred habitat is rainforest.

"They're like most big cats. They're solitary - the only cats that are much different are lions, which hunt in groups, out in the open. Jaguars are stealthy and sneak up on animals and jump them from behind."

Tapirs, stout creatures that look a little like pigs but are actually related to horses, are about the largest animal a jaguar would attack. An adult tapir, at 500 pounds or more, might weigh more than twice as much as an adult jaguar.

At the zoo, the adult jaguars are fed raw ground beef mixed with vitamins, specially made for zoo animals.

Protecting the species

Faced with a loss of habitat, jaguars are a "near-threatened species," and declining in number, Wild said. Trapping and delivery to zoos preserves many jaguars that would otherwise be killed, he said.

The cubs' father, Pat, is an example.

"He was captured because he had an injury, I believe it was a broken leg, in the wild, so he kind of had to turn to easier prey, which is domestic cattle, farm animals, things like that," Wild said. "Normally a farmer would want to kill an animal like that, but they captured him instead and brought him into the zoo in Belize." His injury healed in Belize, and he was brought to Milwaukee.

Cubs in the wild generally stay with their mother for a year or more, and then go off on their own. When the two cubs in Milwaukee are ready to leave their mother, they likely will be sent to other zoos.

"If our adult pair's still alive, which they should be - they're not that old - we really won't have room for them, and it'll be a natural thing for them to want to leave anyway, so they'll be in homes somewhere," Wild said.

A jaguar in captivity may live 20 years or more, according to the National Geographic website.

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