The Jaguar

The Maya word for Jaguar (Panthera Onca) is Bahlam or B’alam.

How to pronounce Bahlam

Also called Tigre in Spanish, jaguars are the largest cat species in the Americas and they are the third largest cat in the world, after tigers and lions.

They can grow up to 185 cm and can weigh over 200 pounds (190 kg). They have distinctive black rosettes on their body. Occasionally, they are born with pure black coats but, despite the difference, they are the same species.

In the wild they are known to live about 11-12 years, but have been known to live up to 20.

They move mostly at night when they hunt. Their eyes are like golden orbs adapted for low light and glow in the dark.

A male home range covers 30 to 40 sq km whereas the home ranges of females cover about 10 sq km.

Want to see a jaguar from a safe distance? Video by Francisco Asturias.

Eighty five different species are known to be consumed by jaguars including peccaries, deer, tapir, monkeys, snakes and birds.

Jaguars roar back and forth to each other, although most commonly they make low, raspy grunting noises.

Do you want to hear the sound of the jaguar?

Dr Diane has seen a baby jaguar up close! Sadly, it had been abandoned by its mother and was all alone. As it wouldn’t survive on its own, a cage was built for it in camp, and then it was taken to ARCAS, the Wildlife Animal Protection Centre in Guatemala.

Pretty feisty for a baby!

The Jaguar in the Maya World

Probably the most feared and revered beast in Mesoamerica, the jaguar occupies the top level of the food chain.

The ancient Maya thought that at night the sun, as it slips into the underworld, would transform into a jaguar. A powerful predator, the animal was also associated with warriors and hunters, and became a symbol of the might and authority of the rulers.

As jaguars were the most powerful and dangerous animals in the rainforest; the kings of the rainforest, Maya rulers desired the power and spirit of the jaguar.

You will often see rulers wearing jaguar pelt (skin), or you will see it covering thrones or in their tombs. Even objects owned by royalty often show painted jaguar spots.

King of Bonampak wearing jaguar skin

Many Maya rulers included the name of the jaguar in their royal title.

One of the earliest kings of Tikal was called Foliated-Jaguar, whereas the city of Yaxchilan had a long line of ‘Jaguars’ rulers: Shield Jaguar, Bird Jaguar I (AD 378-389), Bird Jaguar II (ca AD 467), Knot-eye Jaguar I (AD 508-518), Knot-eye Jaguar II (ca AD 564), Bird Jaguar III (AD 629-669), Shield Jaguar II (AD 681-742), Bird Jaguar IV (AD 752-768), and Shield Jaguar III (AD 769-800).

How to write and pronounce the Maya word for Jaguar

In Maya hieroglyphs, the word for jaguar could be written several ways:

as a logogram representing the entire word:

maya logogram for jaguar

or phonetically using the signs for the syllables b’a, la and ma:

phonetic maya writting for jaguar

but also using combinations of the logogram with syllabic signs and phonetic complements:


2 responses to “The Jaguar”

  1. Lizzie says:

    My spirit animal is a Jaguar

  2. adrièl ryan rodriguez says:

    My spirit is a jaguar and am getting this as a tattoo for protection over me🙌🏽

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