The IUCN Red List is widely used to guide conservation policy and practice. However, in most cases the evaluation of a species using IUCN Red List criteria takes into account only the global status of the species. Although subpopulations may be assessed using the IUCN categories and criteria, this rarely occurs, either because it is difficult to identify subpopulations or because of the effort involved. Using the jaguar Panthera onca as a model we illustrate that wide-ranging species that are assigned a particular category of threat based on the IUCN Red List criteria may display considerable heterogeneity within individual taxa in terms of the level of risk they face. Using the information available on the conservation status of the species, we evaluated the jaguar's current geographical range and its subpopulations. We identified the most threatened subpopulations, using the extent of occurrence, area of occupancy, population size and the level of threat to each subpopulation. The main outcome of this analysis was that although a large subpopulation persists in Amazonia, virtually all others are threatened because of their small size, isolation, deficient protection and the high human population density. Based on this approach, future conservation efforts can be prioritized for the most threatened subpopulations. Based on our findings we recommend that for future Red List assessments assessors consider the value of undertaking assessments at the subpopulation level. For the jaguar, sub-global assessments should be included on the Red List as a matter of urgency.