The sacred universe of the pre-Hispanic Maya was made up of a totality that included mankind, natural phenomena, heavenly objects, and more. The animals were essential symbols, associated with vital energies, the cosmos, and death. They carried out a fundamental role, and some of them were granted strength and power, representing the sacred, as in the case of the jaguar, mysterious resident of the jungles and wetlands.

The jaguar in the Maya’s eyes

Because of its habits, the jaguar had a close bond with the gods associated with the underworld; it was one of the most important symbols of the underground world, wild nature, and death, but also of regenerative events such as life and fertility; that’s why opposing meanings were allocated to it. It was the most frequently represented animal in sculptures, pottery, murals, and codes, and its fangs and/or claws were found as offerings in royal tombs.

It continues to appear in stories of the native communities’ traditions as the main character in myths, legends, festivities, and carnivals that we still see today in contemporary Maya communities. This feline appears in several llanguages, as “balam” (Yucatec Maya), “bolom” (Dzozil), and “bahlum” (Chol), among others.

Jaguars today

The jaguar, spotted feline, symbol of power, of lineage and greatness to the Maya; of courage for elite warrior groups; a link with the divine, with death and with life, today is a legend that is vanishing.

The jaguar (Panthera onca), which has lived in America for more than two million years, is a species in danger of extinction. Its numbers have declined all through its natural habitat in the last fifty years, mainly because of the destruction and fragmentation of its habitat, poaching, and diminishing prey.

In the past 10 years, efforts to conserve this feline have increased, through the work of different government organizations, the academic sector, private organizations, and some rural communities. These efforts are hugely important, but they are still not enough to save it from extinction.

The Yucatán Península is home to 50% of the jaguar population in México, and organizations such as Pronatura Península de Yucatán A.C. contribute by protecting the animal and restoring its habitat, biological monitoring, attention to the jaguar-livestock conflict, and environmental education in the region.

You can help to save the jaguar from extinction. Find out how: [email protected]

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