Maya - The Big Cat Sanctuary


Panthera onca/JaguarNear Threatened

Interesting facts about Maya

  • Maya was born at Wingham Wildlife Park on 11th July 2017, she arrived at The Big Cat Sanctuary at the tender age of 5 days old as she wasn't receiving adequate milk or care from her mother.
  • A decision was taken by the keepers at Wingham Wildlife Park that her best chance of survival was for her to be hand-reared, and Giles Clark was the perfect person to do it. Welcome Maya!
  • Maya's first few months were a rollercoaster, but she proved to be a little fighter and became stronger by the day, she was also a tv star in the making!
  • The first three months of Maya's life was spent primarily with Giles, either in his home or at work. At around 3 months old she moved to the Sanctuary and her care was more shared with Briony, the Head Keeper and some of the team. She continued to grow in size and personality.
  • Filming of the BBC documentary series Big Cats About The House was ongoing, the crew followed her story as she grew bigger and stronger every day, and Maya became a super star when the programme aired in 2018.
  • Maya is a strong, wonderful natured, well rounded and intelligent individual who has become an incredible ambassador for her wild cousins. She has already helped raise much needed funds and awareness for Jaguar conservation.

Maya's story

When Maya arrived at The Big Cat Sanctuary at just 5 days old she was a tiny cub in a rather critical state. She weighed about 800 grams (a little less than a bag of sugar) her mother did not appear to have enough milk to feed her and Maya was showing signs of weakness and dehydration, the decision to hand rear a cub is never taken lightly. However, on this occasion it was deemed the best option for Maya and her rollercoaster journey began on day one of her arrival, this was to be documented in the BBC series Big Cats About The House. At this stage no-one knew we had a star in the making.

Giles became her carer overnight, and it was a tall task as Maya required round the clock care, being bottle fed every four hours. Giles’ experience in hand-rearing played a fundamental role in her progressing well and monitoring of her developmental milestones was critical to her making a full recovery. She formed a bond with Giles and became stronger by the day.

But at around 2 months old, observations were made that  Maya was uncoordinated in her movement and appeared to have problems seeing things.  Veterinary tests were not able to reveal a definite cause, and Maya’s future was suddenly uncertain.  Her only hope was that she would improve with time with lots of care.  Maya was taken to hydrotherapy sessions to help strengthen her hind legs and help her coordination.  Climbing frames were also built in the garden so that she could practice her balance and slowly but surely Maya began to improve.


Maya's story continued

As she grew, Maya needed to learn that although humans would always look after her, she was an animal, and she could only learn this from another animal.  Therefore, Maya had regular visits with a local Labrador called Duffy.  Through play Maya could learn, just as she would with a sibling or her mother, what was fun and what was too far.

Most days Maya was transported to enclosures around site so that she could experience new sights and smells, as well as seeing other cats from a distance.

Gradually concerns for Maya’s health fell away as she matured into an active, inquisitive and very healthy young jaguar, fast outgrowing the ‘cub cabin’ she had grown up in, it was time to start preparing her an enclosure of her own.  She would spend the day in her own enclosure and then come back to the cabin at night with the keepers until she was 6 months old, she moved into her enclosure for good and it was time that she gradually was weaned off having human visitors as she was fast becoming a grown up and independent young lady.

Maya is now a very well rounded individual, she still enjoys seeing people and we couldn’t be prouder of her. She continues to be an incredible ambassador for her species, raising tens of thousands of pounds for jaguar conservation.


About Jaguars

Jaguars are the largest cat species found within South America. In the wild Jaguars are vulnerable to critical, the creation of National Parks and in-situ breeding programmes has led to the recent documented increase in numbers.

Jaguars are strong swimmers and climbers and require large areas of tropical rain forest and stretches of river bank to survive. They also have the strongest jaw pressure of any big cat. Jaguars use this to full advantage, by attacking their prey by the back of the skull, crushing it with a single bite, unlike the more usual throat or nose attack used by other big cats. With their strong muscular build they can drag carcasses up to three times their own weight up into trees.

Hunting and habitat loss due to deforestation continue to threaten the survival of these magnificent cats. Work is being done with the government of Brazil to successfully protect large blocks of Amazon forest for the Jaguar. Jaguars are now being tracked to learn more about their habitat requirements and range, vital data is being gathered to help support conservation initiatives and studies which contribute to effective protection strategies. 

Jaguars are endangered on account of illegal poaching and also under threat from plantations and industry development, however in certain areas, wildlife tourism is on the rise. This, if done effectively can boost income and standards of living for the people in these areas and help educate communities to support the conservation work being carried out to protect this species. Coexistence is key to the survival of this incredible species.

About 10% of Jaguars in the wild are black as a result of a genetic mutation. This melanistic gene results in black fur with rosettes showing in various shades of black. Black jaguars are often referred to as black panthers (along with black Leopards and sometimes even pumas). The coat of a jaguar is very similar to that of a leopard, but there is a slight difference in the rosettes, jaguars have a small black dots in the centre, this is far more visible on the golden jaguar.

Jaguars have the strongest bite of all the big cats, exerting a bite pressure of approximately 1500-2000 pounds per square inch, (depending on source material).

As with the majority of the big cats they are solitary and only really socialize with others for breeding purposes.


IUCN Red List Category Near Threatened(NT)

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