Baby jaguar ‘Banks’ makes big debut at Jacksonville Zoo

First jaguar cub born at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in 10 years

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Baby jaguar "Banks" make debut at Jacksonville Zoo's Range of the Jaguar exhibit.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The newest jaguar cub at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens made his highly anticipated first public appearance Thursday, exploring the Range of the Jaguar exhibit for the first time.

Banks, who was born on April 7 to first-time parents Babette and Harry, is the first jaguar cub born at the Zoo in 10 years. At birth, Banks weighed 9 pounds and 11 ounces. Now, he’s up to 17 pounds. For the first 15 weeks, he stayed alongside his mother, Babette. Zoo officials said Banks is the perfect blend of his mother and father. They said he’s curious, he’s strong, and he’s learning something every day.

“He has her kind of slender build with a slender face,” Mike Redig, Mammal Care Specialist at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, said. “But you’ll also see dad’s very large paws even at his small size. He looks a little bit unproportional with how big his feet are.”

He got his name from the Zoo’s “Name That Jag” contest. After hundreds of submissions, Banks was one of the four names chosen by zoo staff and the cub’s care specialists that were then voted on by the public.

It won first place with 2,185 votes. Zuco (ZOO-CO), which was a combination of the cub’s paternal grandparents’ names, Zassi and Tuco, fell right behind it with 2,174 votes.

“Banks” pays homage to the St. Johns River and the home stadium of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The contest to name the jaguar cub raised nearly $11,500 in donations from 700 submissions.

It costs over $10,000 to provide annual medical exams and food for the jaguars at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, and to support Jacksonville’s newest jaguar, the Jaguars Foundation agreed to match up to $10,000 in donations through the naming contest, bringing the total funds raised to $21,494.

Jaguars are solitary creatures that only spend time together to mate. In the wild, a jaguar mother teaches her cub to hunt at around six months, and at 2 years of age, the cub leaves to live on its own.

Similar to lions, tigers and other big cats, a jaguar’s pregnancy is short, lasting about 14 weeks. Cubs typically weigh about the same as a loaf of bread when born, but grow rapidly, with males weighing up to 50% more than females by age 2.

Jaguars are listed as Near Threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Jaguars once roamed from central Argentina all the way up to the southwestern United States. Since the 1880s, they’ve lost more than half of their original territory. Today, their main stronghold is in Brazil and in the Amazon Rainforest -- the planet’s largest tropical wetland.

“We’re making every effort to push conservation in the right direction and to make a better future for those animals and the people that live there as well,” Dr. Jeff Ettling, President and CEO at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, said.

Babette, who just celebrated her seventh birthday on June 29, bonded well behind the scenes with Banks.

Banks climbs on mom Babette during his debut in the Range of the Jaguar exhibit (WJXT)

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013. She reports for and anchors The Morning Show.