Favorite Jaguar Moments

Posted at 10:36 am December 24, 2008 by Karen Barnes

I am privileged to work the exhibits in Cat Canyon. Each species has its own mind set; its own management challenges, its own beauty. Each individual, its own personality.

We have two jaguars. Orson, a magnificent black jaguar, and Nindiri, a small female with the more normal coat pattern of black spots on a golden coat. They are placed on exhibit, one at a time, during the day. Each seems to enjoy their time on exhibit and the admiration of guests and staff alike. When I think of them, several moments come to mind:

– I love Orson’s glossy, black coat. If you look closely when the sun shines on his coat you’ll see that he has black spots, it’s just that his are against a black background. He is a gorgeous combination of power and beauty. Awesome is an over-used word these days, but it truly describes Orson.

– Orson’s eyes have a green hue.

– During the warmer months, Orson was often draped over the forked branch at the front of his exhibit when I walked by at the morning’s check. This is a very jaguar thing to do.

– Nindiri drapes herself across the forked branches, but not well. One would think her smaller size would make it easier for her. However, she seems uncertain where to put her belly and can be seen frequently adjusting her balance. This is a recent behavior for her. She doesn’t stay there long, possibly because it’s not a comfy position for her. Perhaps she’ll get better with time?

– In the afternoon, with dappled sunlight filtering into the exhibit, Orson often rests on his back, right at the front of the exhibit, watching the guests from an upside-down vantage point.

– Seeing Nindiri resting on the bench on exhibit, her energy stilled for the time being. She looks content.

– Nindiri’s efforts to drag a large bowl out of the pond are always impressive. The bowl is almost as big as she is, but her determination overcomes obstacles as she moves it around the exhibit.

– I enjoy watching their tails. They look like they’ve got a separate brain in their tail tip. The tail tip is often moving, seemingly independent from whatever the cat is doing.

Stop by our jaguar exhibit and find your own favorite moments.

Karen Barnes is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous blog, A Jaguar’s Day.

Jaguars are the featured animal in the January issue of ZOONOOZ, our member magazine. For video and a photo slide show of Orson and Nindiri, visit our ZOONOOZ page.

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12 Responses to “Favorite Jaguar Moments”

  1. Taylor says:

    What a great blog! I am so happy with all the jaguar blogs that have been coming up because normally they are about the pandas or polar bears (which is not a bad thing, but not much before was heard about the jaguars). The ZOONOOZ video was great too. Thank you for everything you do for these magnificent cats Karen!

  2. Shirley Sykes says:

    Hi Karen. Thanks so much for your blog. I always enjoy seeing the jaguars on my frequent zoo walks. I guess Orson is one of my favorites. His energy, especially when he tackles hidden meatballs or a suspended leg of lamb, is truly awesome. And all all of us zoophiles are looking forward to seeing Nindiri and her eventual partner on the new Elephant Oddysey exhibit when it opens in late spring.

  3. Pepsi Coke says:

    Orson reminds me of my cat,Shadow.He has a green hue in his eyes to!! Anyways,keep up the good work!!

  4. Clare says:

    Karen, thanks for the great info. They both are beautiful cats. Also thank you for setting up N’s first carcass pull. It was great fun to watch.

  5. nancy from michigan says:

    is there a reason why they are put on exibit one at a time? are they together when off exibit? they are truly beautiful cats. who picked out their cool names? I like them alot!! thanks for the interesting post.

    Karen responds: Hello Nancy. Here are the answers to your questions:

    Jaguars are solitary animals in the wild. Males and females are together only for breeding. And, of course, moms with cubs are together.

    They each came to us from different zoos, already named.

    Thanks you for your interest in these beautiful cats. As you can imagine, I love taking care of them!


    Karen Barnes

  6. Melissa says:

    The local zoo used to have a black jaguar. Until I saw him in person, I’d thought that black jaguars were solid black. When the sunlight glinted off this jaguar’s coat, however, I realized that he had spots. He was one of the most beautiful creatures I’ve ever laid my eyes on and when he stared albeit briefly into my eyes, it was breathtaking. Orson looks similarly stunning in that photo. Is there any way to find out what zoo he came from?

    Giant pandas were my “first love” in the animal kingdom and the fondness and fascination have never died. In college, I missed the family dogs but was not allowed to have a dog in my apartment. I took on a cat that needed a home despite the fact that I’d had no experience being around a cat. It was a life-altering decision and I quickly learned how magnificent cats are, whether small and domesticated or big and wild. The rewards of working with animals must be endless but I am especially in awe (and the slightest bit jealous, but in a good way) of those who are able to make their life’s work amongst the giant pandas and big cats. Give Orson and Nindiri my warmest regards, Karen, and thank you for taking great care of the cats. It is wonderful to read these blogs and feel the love for animals that the keepers clearly possess.

    Moderator’s note: Orson was born at the Wildlife World Zoo in Arizona in 1992. The following year he was sent to the Phoenix Zoo, who in turn sent him to us in 1997.

  7. Melissa says:

    Thank you, moderator, for the information about Orson!

  8. Carrie says:

    I just wanted to say your doing a good job keeping the both of them safe and healthy!! Keep up the good work!!!!!!!

  9. Kalei hoffmeyer says:

    thanks alot for the info

  10. bigcatcentral says:

    Nindiri was born at the zoo near me. I am glad to know she’s doing well. I miss her. I hope sometime I can come there and see her again.

  11. Jonathon Hopkins says:

    My favorite Jaguar moment would have to be my son’s 8th birthday. We witnessed a black panther giving birth to spotted cubs! It was truly amazing. I was curious to find out that a pair of spotted jaguars can only produce spotted cubs because the gene is incompletely dominant. Individuals with two copies of the allele are darker than individuals with one. My other favorite moment is when they beat the Buffalo Bills in their first ever playoff game on December 28th 1996! wow what a game!

  12. Pam Kelly says:

    I thought it interesting the story of the jaguar raised with the puppy. We got to see them together with a keeper in the cage. We only got part of the story….what is the whole story?


    Moderator’s note: We have raised cheetahs and Arctic wolves with dog companions. For a good explanation, see Cheetah and Dog Pals.