A Jaguars In The Santa Rita Mountains of Arizona

The Only Known Jaguar In The United States Is El Jefe

In 2011, a rancher spots what he thinks is a Jaguar and sure enough, it was.  El Jefe has been spotted, tracked and photographed on numerous occasions and is the center of controversy for the preservation of one Jaguar.  There is no known mate and because of the U.S. Mexican border, the prospects of El Jefe finding a female is slim to none.  This is primarily because the range for this animal lies primarily in Mexico and South America.  But for the Endangered Species “Left”, this is not acceptable and it’s likely these “green” groups will spend millions on an animal that shouldn’t be here in the first place.  The acceptable solution would be to capture this Jaguar and move him back to South America where he belongs.  The possibility there will be more to migrate is good (the CBD reports up to three), but the cost to maintain these animals is expensive and for sure, will be on going.

Jaguar RangeEl Jefe is an adult, male Arizonan jaguar. It was first recorded in in November 2011, and is living in the Santa Rita Mountains. From November 2011 to November 2016, El Jefe was the only wild jaguar verified to live in the United States. Its name, which means The Boss in Spanish, was chosen by students of the Felizardo Valencia Middle School of Tucson, in a contest organized by the non-profit conservation group Center for Biological Diversity in November 2015 and has been used frequently by conservation groups and media. However, several researchers involved in its monitoring prefer to call it simply the Santa Ritas jaguar.  The CBD now reports there are three know Jaguars in Arizona.

El Jefe was first sighted by cougar hunter and guide Donnie Fenn, along with his 10 year-old daughter, in the Whetstone Mountains on Saturday, 19 November 2011. His hunting dogs chased the animal until it climbed a tree, at which point he took several pictures of it and left to call state wildlife officials. In a news conference organized by the Arizona Game and Fish Department the following Tuesday, Fenn stated that the jaguar, an adult male, climbed down the tree and was chased up a second tree after it had injured some of the dogs in its retreat. The hunter pulled his dogs away, and left the scene. The pictures represent the first evidence of the existence of a wild jaguar in the United States since the death of Macho B in 2009.  Several news outlets ran the photos with an article but a video, said to have been taken at the scene, is not publicly available.

Appearance in the Santa Rita Mountains Of Arizona

<< Focus is on the southern Arizona region and is not necessarily reflective of your location >>

Santa Rita MountainsIn 20 December 2012, through a joint news release the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department and the University of Arizona, announced that pictures from a jaguar taken in late November of that year, at the Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona using camera-traps, belonged to the same individual photographed one year earlier. The camera-traps were an initiative led by the University of Arizona.  Further identification is made by the jaguars unique spot patterns which allows confirmation of individual cats.

Continued monitoring of El Jefe In Arizona

Since then, edited shots on different days by the Wild Cat Research and Conservation Center at the University of Arizona have been released by the CBD and are drawing much attention.  As the only verifiable Jaguar in the U.S., the Defenders of Wildlife sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010 providing a recovery plan and critical habitat for Jaguar’s within the Santa Rita Mountains as the official recovery area.

Significance And Origin Of The Jaguar In Arizona

El JefeEl Jefe most likely came from an eastern Sonora Mexico region and population so named HuásabasSahuaripa after two of the municipalities over which it extends.  This population has been the target of several conservation efforts, most notably the creation of the Northern Jaguar Reserve, a private wildlife sanctuary first established in 2003 by Naturalia, a Mexican non-profit conservation organization and Northern Jaguar Project and since expanded from its original 4,000 hectares to 24,400 hectares in 2015.

As part of its efforts to determine critical habitat for the species and to understand how jaguars from this population have been reaching the United States, the US Fish and Wildlife Service commissioned the Wildlife Conservation Society to develop a connectivity model, that could inform which areas are likely to serve as wildlife corridors linking breeding populations of jaguars in Mexico to known locations of recent sightings in the United States. The report included a series of maps that identify the area’s most likely to be used by jaguars along the western states of Mexico, and reaching into Arizona. It further identifies intersections between these corridors and major highways, as a first step in addressing the challenges any females may face trying to reach Arizona. The establishment of a breeding population of jaguars in the U.S. requires that at least one breeding female uses the U.S. as part of its territory, and is regarded as a milestone in species recovery.

Controversial Development Projects For The Jaguar In Arizona

The appearance of El Jefe in the Santa Rita Mountains prompted several groups to increase their opposition of the Rosemont Copper mining project still in the permitting process.  The housing project Villages at Vigneto is also being contested for its environmental impact, and damage to jaguar’s critical habitat has been mentioned as one of the potential effects.

The biggest barrier, by far, has been the border issues between Mexico and the United States.  Cited as a major concern for recovery is the release of the Department of Homeland Security from adhering to any environmental law in its progress towards building more walls.  Mexican Federal Highways No. 2 and No.15 have also been identified by both the Wildlife Conservation Society’s report on jaguar habitat and by local conservation groups as major obstacles to jaguar recovery in the region.

From The Arizona Republic (Dec 2016)

Photos of El JefeA picture taken by a camera along a Fort Huachuca trail in southeast Arizona on Dec.1 showed a jaguar wandering the Huachuca Mountains.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were partnering to determine if the jaguar was new to the state or had been seen in Arizona before.

“Preliminary indications are that the cat is a male jaguar and, potentially, an individual not previously seen in Arizona,” Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, regional director for the Southwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said.

Jaguars are native to Arizona, but no longer commonly seen, according to Jamey Driscoll, Birds and Mammals program manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

“Since the 1960s, we have had just under half a dozen jaguars spotted in Arizona,” Driscoll said.

The Myth Of Jaguar Conservation In Arizona

El Jefe on FilmIn Arizona and New Mexico, a state-led Jaguar Conservation Team (JAGCT) is working to protect and conserve a species that many people do not even know is native to the United States. Created in 1997, JAGCT is a voluntary partnership among state, federal, and local government agencies, private individuals, and other entities with an interest in jaguar conservation. Their efforts and those of colleagues in Mexico are helping create a more promising future for the jaguar in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

Jaguar RangeJAGCT activities include: compiling scientific literature and occurrence information; developing protocols for jaguar sighting-verification, handling, capture, and verification of prey killed; creating an education curriculum; monitoring jaguar presence (primarily through the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project); and developing procedures for the Malpai Borderlands Group (MBG) to use in voluntarily compensating livestock owners for documented losses to depredating jaguars. One depredation has been documented as of February 2009; MBG compensated the livestock owner.

JAGCT has also assessed the possible effects of several predator control methods on jaguars and formed various committees to deal with other issues related to jaguar conservation. A Scientific Advisory Committee advises JAGCT on its objectives in and approaches to jaguar conservation. The advisory committee includes several of the most renowned and well-published jaguar conservation experts in the world, as well as expert veterinarians and two scientists who have been working with bordelands jaguars for a decade or more.

If jaguars are to flourish in Arizona, one will have to transplant females into the state and hope they take up residency. The problem with that will be the legal entanglements that go along with that strategy–  “critical habitat” designations and the protection of “look alike species”.  At Shake, Rattle & Troll, we don’t see this happening.