New Study: Male Jaguars Form Coalitions

By Allison Devlin, Ph.D.
Director, Jaguar Program

Male jaguars

In this Field Notes blog, Dr. Allison Devlin, Deputy Director of our Jaguar Program, discusses recent findings which reveal that male jaguars sometimes form coalitions. Read about the implications of this study below, and see our Press Release for more. 

Each year, we learn more and more about one of the most recognizable species in the Americas — jaguars. A new study sheds light on the mysterious social life of these elusive and solitary wild cats. Our team and colleagues in Brazil and Venezuela studied the formation of coalitions between male jaguars, an otherwise rarely-observed and little-known social behavior. 

Wild cats are mainly classified as solitary species, with the exception of lions (which form prides) and male cheetahs (which sometimes form bachelor groups). Jaguars are a solitary species, largely considered to hold exclusive territories and — aside from mating and rearing cubs — live their lives alone.

Male jaguar solitary

However, there is more to jaguars than meets the eye. From long-term research and citizen science efforts, we are starting to better understand the extent of social tolerance and interactions among this otherwise solitary felid.  

Our teams first observed a curious behavior among dominant male jaguars in resident populations. Soon, we came together with one question: “Have you also seen this…?”. To our surprise, colleagues from the Brazilian Pantanal and Venezuelan Llanos confirmed that — while rare — a very small subset of male jaguars have exhibited a very peculiar behavior. We set to work analyzing data collected from a variety of techniques — from GPS collars to camera traps and direct observations. The data were aggregated from five separate jaguar studies conducted in the Brazilian Pantanal and Venezuelan Llanos. Over a total of 7,000 records, we found evidence of 105 interactions between male jaguars. Of those interactions, we documented 70 observations of cooperation among male jaguars.

We found that males sometimes formed long-lasting partnerships, including two such partnerships that lasted for over seven years. Two males patrolled territory together, shared prey and even rested side by side. 

What is the significance of this finding? Forming a coalition with another male likely provides greater access to food, ability to defend their territory against other competing males and reproductive access to female jaguars. For the few male jaguars that form these coalitions, the benefits outweigh the previously assumed norm of a life alone.

©WLODEK Jedrzejewski

Does this make male jaguars as social as their cheetah and lion counterparts? The answer is no. The coalitions we observed in male jaguars were only comprised of two individuals, while male lion and cheetah groups can be larger. Male lions and cheetahs will also hunt together and cooperate with females. Unlike lions and cheetahs, male jaguar coalitions are likely driven by high concentrations of prey and females. While our findings are novel, male jaguar coalitions are still rarely observed and not nearly as widespread as those found in lions and cheetahs. 

Though the coalitions are small, our observations have revealed a unique behavior. Such observations demonstrate the power of citizen science and ecotourism to shed a light on these otherwise rarely-observed interactions and behaviors. By working to mitigate human-cat conflict and support community outreach, ecotourism helps bring value to coexisting with jaguars — and, along with it, provides insight into the secret lives of these enigmatic wild cats. Without ecotourism and citizen science, such detailed, direct observations of these behaviors (and much more!) would not have been possible.

Jaguar pair

The next time you see a video of a jaguar hunting a caiman in the Pantanal or moving through the jungle, consider all the discoveries a single video or picture of an animal can uncover. There may be more to a solitary creature than meets the eye — even one as charismatic and iconic as a jaguar.