Cat versus caiman

by Greg Mayer

Jaguars are the largest species of American cat, and are the top carnivore from the southwestern US to Argentina. In the Pantanal wetlands of southern Brazil, Justin Black took a series of extraordinary photographs showing just how top a carnivore it is, as a jaguar took on, and carried away to eat, an adult caiman.

A jaguar, having seized an adult caiman by the neck, prepares to carry off the ill-fated reptile.

A jaguar, having seized an adult caiman by the neck, prepares to carry off the ill-fated reptile.

Black obtained an exquisite set of photos, showing the jaguar spying the caiman from the shore, swimming out to the sand bank on which the caiman rested, sneaking up on it and seizing it from behind, and then carrying the living caiman in its jaws back across the water; the whole set of photos can be seen in the Daily Mail. It is likely that the jaguar eventually dispatched the caiman, and consumed it. Jaguars and anacondas are among the few known predators of adult caimans. This species of caiman grows only to about 8 or 9 feet. The largest species of caiman, the black caiman, reaches 13 feet or so, and there are two species of crocodile in South America that are bigger than that; a jaguar might have trouble handling these larger crocodilians.

33 Comments

  1. Posted September 17, 2013 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    OUCH! That is pretty astounding. The cat’s right eye looks to have been injured at some point in the past. I wonder if the eye still has vision, and if not how does that affect the cat’s hunting skills?

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 17, 2013 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

      From the Daily Mail link:

      The battle-scarred jaguar is well-known to biologists, who have nicknamed him ‘Mick Jaguar’.

      He is estimated to be seven years old and is almost blind in his right eye, probably due to battles defending his territory.

      Wow! Not sure I’d have believed this was possible without those great photos!

  2. microraptor
    Posted September 17, 2013 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Jaguars have always been my favorite big cat. They’re just awesome.

  3. Marella
    Posted September 17, 2013 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    I guess that’s a few good dinners he’s got there. Amazing.

  4. David Duncan
    Posted September 17, 2013 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    Amazing. I wonder to what extent the jaguar’s win was down to surprise. If the caiman had seen it coming would it have survived or even won? Do caiman ever stalk jaguars?

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted September 17, 2013 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

      As a general rule cats of all kinds rely heavily on surprise to catch their prey. If the prey animal sees the cat before it has got close enough for the final short chase or pounce the hunt fails. I am sure this would apply in the case of the caiman which would slip into the water and easily outswim the jaguar.
      If the caiman was somehow prevented from fleeing it would defend itself and I am guessing that with the advantage of surprise lost the jaguar would probably back off as the risk of injury from a bite from the reptiles jaws would be high.

      • Dominic
        Posted September 18, 2013 at 3:14 am | Permalink

        Judging distance being very hard with one eye, I would bet that caiman is easier prey than a peccary in a forest or a capybara – they are faster I would say.

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 18, 2013 at 4:52 am | Permalink

    Wow & all this time I thought caimans were way more bad ass than any mammal! I bet the jaguar wouldn’t take on a hippo though.

    • darrelle
      Posted September 18, 2013 at 5:47 am | Permalink

      Mammals for the win!

    • Newish Gnu
      Posted September 18, 2013 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      Exactly my thoughts. (Oddly, I’m reading a novel right now that describes a scene between unarmed man and starved big cats in the Roman Colesium. The man lasts far longer than seems plausible.)

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted September 18, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      “I bet the jaguar wouldn’t take on a hippo though”.

      Not least because they inhabit different continents! ;-)

      • microraptor
        Posted September 19, 2013 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

        Actually, there’s a small breeding population of hippos in Columbia- a drug baron brought them to his private residence in the 80s and they ended up getting abandoned after he was arrested.

  6. ladyatheist
    Posted September 18, 2013 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    Looks tasty!

  7. Posted September 18, 2013 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    Apparently this wasn’t an isolated incident. The area appears to be known for it, according to the article:

    “Biologist Charles Munn from the Jaguar Research Centre predicts that in 2013, 4,000 people will come to see the caiman-hunting jaguars.”

  8. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 18, 2013 at 5:21 am | Permalink

    Why did the cat cross the creek?

    FWIW, it was my understanding from the accompanying text that jaguars are unique in killing with a crushing bite over the back of the head instead of strangulation by the neck.
    Presumably then it is carrying a dead caiman back for nomming.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 18, 2013 at 5:22 am | Permalink

      Re “and then carrying the living caiman in its jaws back across the water”.

      • Jim
        Posted September 18, 2013 at 5:47 am | Permalink

        I don’t understand how a big cat can successfully carry/tow a similar-weight water-dwelling reptile across a river. How come the caiman didn’t just drag the cat under – or at least prevent it from reaching the river bank?

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted September 18, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

          Big cats are awesomely f***ing strong… but I expect that having huge canine teeth driven between the cervical vertebrae would cause the caiman to go a bit limp and uncoordinated even if, physiologically speaking, it was still ‘alive’.

    • Posted September 18, 2013 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      The caiman is clearly still alive in photos later than the one shown in the OP, and seems to be alive as the jaguar is swimming it back across the water (see Daily Mail). Caimans’ necks have very thick muscles, and are protected dorsally by several large bony plates. It will take a bit of work for the jaguar to bite all the way through.

      GCM

      • Notagod
        Posted September 18, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

        Holey Jeebus Crispy Christ, that kitty is very strong.

  9. Posted September 18, 2013 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    Those are amazing photos at the Daily Mail!

  10. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted September 18, 2013 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Oh sure, South American crocodilians. Let’s see your little kitty tackle this:
    Man stalked by giant crocodile for two weeks before being rescued
    “Mr MacLeod told the Rural Report that he believes the animal is about six metres long.”

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 18, 2013 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      Ah a salty. They are probably the scariest of the crocs!

  11. Notagod
    Posted September 18, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    The fourth picture at this theanimalfiles jaguar page: “Oh their gods mom! I haz a baph yesterday already.”

  12. darrelle
    Posted September 18, 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Great pictures. Lucky photographer. Not so lucky caiman.

    This brings to mind a documentary I saw, ten years ago or more, about tigers. It had some really good footage of tigers hunting. In one clip a tiger chased a deer or antelope far out into water, killed it, then turned around and swam back to where he entered the water, all the while fighting off several crocodiles that harrassed him the entire way back. Big crocs.

    Another very cool scene was a showdown in a snowy forest. I seem to remember it was in the Himalayas but maybe Siberia? A tiger encountered a huge shaggy beast face to face. I remember that when I first saw it I thought it was something like a shaggy bison, but I can’t remember what the heck it actually was. It was huge! Made the tiger look like a house cat going up against a pitbull. And it had dread locks hanging down to the ground. This beast was said to weigh around 2000 lbs (890 kg), and the tiger to weigh 500 lbs (220 kg). After some dancing around head to head the tiger slipped down one side, dodging the shaggy giant beast’s muzzle, swarmed up onto its back, and that was pretty much it.

    I’ve tried to find clips of these scenes but had no luck. Though I did find plenty of clips of tigers mixing it up with crocs, none of them were the one from the documentary I remember.

    • threeflangedjavis
      Posted September 18, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      Yak?

      • darrelle
        Posted September 19, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        I think it must have been. The images I just looked up match pretty closely what I remember, and it seems to be the only animal in that size range in that area.

        • microraptor
          Posted September 19, 2013 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

          Seems likely- gaur get that large but aren’t very shaggy, while takin are shaggy but aren’t nearly that large.

  13. W.Benson
    Posted September 18, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Jaguars are marvelous but scary creatures. Every year or so there is a report of someone in Brazil being killed, but attacks seem rare. At the Carajás iron mine, some 200 miles south of the mouth of the Amazon, jaguar and puma tracks are everywhere. Camp watch dogs can’t be tied up at night because big cats eat them.

    The only Jaguar I actually saw was about 10 years ago while walking along the shore of a bayou in the Pantanal. A darkish jaguar suddenly jumped across the path and away when I was about 20 yards from it. It was so fast and unexpected that my first response was to look for paw prints to confirm that I had really seen one. Fantastic animals.

    • darrelle
      Posted September 18, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      You mean your first response was not an involuntary trickle of warm liquid seeping down your leg?

      • W.Benson
        Posted September 18, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        Darrelle, Jaguars are considerably less dangerous than Kawasakis.

        • darrelle
          Posted September 18, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

          Ha! Actually those Kawasakis can be pretty dangerous. The Yamahas and Suzukis aren’t so bad though.

          I would have been thrilled, as I’m sure you were, to have such a close encounter with such an awesome creature. I likely wouldn’t have had time for the surprise and thrill to run their course, and to begin worrying about my safety until after the encounter was over.

        • darrelle
          Posted September 18, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

          Oh, I forgot. I often scare myself on a motorcycle. If you aren’t going so fast that you have doubts about your ability to make it around the approaching turn, then you aren’t having as much fun as you could be!

          As the saying goes, “Flat out until you see god (or dog, or better yet ceiling cat, or maybe just until two counts past the last braking marker), then brake.


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