The jaguar (Panthera onca) is the largest and most powerful cat in the Americas. This cat can weigh up to 350 pounds (159 kg) and grow to a length of six feet (1.8 m) from head to tail. The jaguar is a top predator who feeds on tapirs, deer, peccaries, sloths, caimans, turtles, fish, and giant otters, and its only natural predator is the Anaconda snake.

Jaguars typically hunt alone and at night, attacking their prey by pouncing onto their back and quickly severing the neck vertebrate with a powerful bite. In fact, their name is appropriately derived from the Indian word "yaguar" meaning "he who kills at one leap." These cats are live in the tropical forests of Central and South America and Mexico.

As solitary animals, male and females live together only during mating season. Pregnancy lasts for 95 to 110 days, and mothers typically bear two to four cubs. Cubs stay with their mother for their first two years and learn to hunt. By their fourth year, jaguars are considered fully grown adults.

In the Manu region, the Inca Indians deeply respected these fierce cats. The jaguars symbolized power, strength, and beauty. Incas in Cuzco used the jaguar image in their coat of arms and even named a respected captain, who explored the southeastern Peruvian jungle, Otorongo (Jaguar) Achachi.

The jaguar population is threatened by humans. They have been overhunted for their attractive black-spotted golden pelts as well as driven out of their natural habitat as a result of human development and expansion. Despite many misconceptions, jaguars rarely attack humans unless provoked. If you encounter a jaguar, it is better to stand still and make a large sound than to run away.

Howler Monkey
As the colors of the macaw are unmistakable in the Amazon, so is the roar of the howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus). Reddish in body color and black in face, the howler monkey cautions other animals to stay away by sounding terrifying howls at both dawn and dusk. These noises alert other howler monkeys of the location of their troops and thus reduce potential conflicts between troops. The male howler monkey has an enlarged goiter-like hyoid bone that allows it to create its unique, voluminous roars.

The howling ritual usually begins with a single male making several low grunts. To increase the volume and length at which its noise carries through the rain forest, other males in the troop join in and begin to howl. The howling eventually culminates in one long thunderous roar. The higher pitched females of a troop also participate in this practice.

Though their roars are intimidating, howler monkeys are, in fact, quite lethargic and benign animals. Like the sloth, the howler monkey feeds on tree leaves, a low source of energy, and therefore are not as quick or active as other Amazon animals. A troop of howler monkeys, usually consisting of one adult male, one or two reproductive females, and up to four younger howlers, prefers to lounge in the canopy during the day, frequently sleeping and eating.

Giant Otter
Nicknamed in Spanish "lobos de rio" or "the river wolves," the giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) is the largest and most formidable otter in the world. This member of the weasel family can grow up to seven feet long (2m) and weight up to 70 pounds (32 kg). The giant otter hunts in packs of four to ten adults and has a remarkable predatory instinct and unusual feeding habits. Though primarily feeding on fish, the giant otter has been seen attacking and devouring Anaconda snakes and caiman in Manu. Even stranger, it eats all of its fish prey, including the bones. Using its wolf-like teeth, water current-sensing whiskers, and strong webbed forehands, the giant otter is quite an effective water hunter.

As illustrated in their hunting practices, giant otters are extremely social animals and prefer to stay in familial groups. During the day, they often groom one another, which according to scientists, promotes group unity. At night, they retire to communal dens, dug ten feet into the ground along cocha shorelines. The dens provide safety as well as warm birth quarters for new pups. Usually, only one pair of giant otters breed within a pack, producing on average four pups.

Overhunting of giant otters in the mid 1900's has significantly diminished their population. From 1946 to 1973, 24,000 otter skins were exported from Peru, while in the 1960's 20,000 skins were exported from Brazil. From a population of thousands, only 100 giant otters now inhabit the Manu River. In 1974, a law protecting the giant otter was enacted, but even so, giant otters are rare sights and found only in isolated jungle regions. Scientists are currently studying the giant otter's ecological niche to help better protect their species from extinction.

Giant Anteater
Often found foraging for a meal of leaf cutter ants, the giant anteater (Myrmecophagidae tridactyla) is among three species of anteaters that inhabit the Manu River region. The giant anteater is a toothless mammal that feeds on ants and lives on the ground. It has a small head and a long, pronounced snout. Coarse gray hairs, accentuated by white and black stripes running from its throat to its back, cover most of its body. To protect its claws, this creature walks with its front feet turned on their sides.

Using its keen sense of smell, the giant anteater is able to effectively track down ant nests on the forest floor. Once a nest is found, the mammal usually rips it open with its sharp fore claws to expose its delectable contents. The anteater then proceeds to catch and eat the ants by repetitively flicking its long sticky tongue in and out of the nest. The giant anteater's unique tongue can measure as long as two feet (60 cm).

The silky anteater (Cyclopes didactylus) and the southern tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla) are two other species of anteaters found in Manu. They are smaller and lighter in color than the giant anteater, can live in trees, and have prehensile tails used for climbing.

Tree Sloth
The tree sloth is an unusual-looking mammal that has a slow and unique way of moving about. It has a small flat head, a short and rather non-existent tail, stubby teeth, and dark coarse hair. Using it hook-like claws, this tree-dwelling animal travels through the rain forest by hanging from the limbs of trees and walking upside down from branch to branch. The tree sloth moves extremely slowly, and this behavior is due, in part, to its very low metabolism rate. Needing only low energy sources, this creature feeds on leaves, flowers, and twigs. There are two types of sloths that exist: the two and three-toed sloth. The brown-throated three-toed Sloth (Bradypus variegatus) and the Hoffman's two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) inhabit the Manu Biosphere Reserve.
Brazilian Tapir
The Brazilian tapir (Tapirus terrestris) is a herbivore related to the horse and rhinoceros and lives deep within the Amazon rain forest near watering holes. This pig-like looking animal has a stocky body with four front toes and three hind toes. In addition, the Brazilian tapir has a moveable nose that it uses to sniff out food. This creature usually feeds on leaves, fruits, vegetables, and twigs.
Collared Peccary
The collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu) is a pig-like animal that inhabits a broad area, including regions of southwestern United States and South America. This dark-haired creature has four hooves on its forelegs and only three on its hind legs. The collared peccary feeds on plants, insects, and frogs. This mammal is often seen traveling in single file herds, sometimes in groups as large as twenty. Indians in the Manu region often hunt the peccary for its meat.
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