Friday, January 27, 2017

New Male Jaguar Occupies Hauchucas

An unfamiliar male jaguar, probably from Mexico, was spotted living in Arizona's Hauchuca Mountains, the northern most extent of their range in December.  Jaguars went practically extinct in the American southwest early in the last century.  Only six, all males, have been recorded entering the US in the past two decades. No females are known to inhabit areas north of the border. One of the males, El Jefe, became an Internet sensation.  Another, Macho B, was euthanized by Arizona authorities after being collared for tracking purposes.  It is thought he was stressed to the point of kidney failure by wearing a tracking device. {05.02.16, 06.04.09}.  They were designated endangered in 1997 by the federal government, and critical habitat was designated in Arizona and New Mexico for their survival [map courtesy Arizona Game & Fish].  Predictably livestock interests are suing to overrule those designations.

There are no current federal plans to reintroduce females and attempt to resurrect American jaguars (Panthera onca) from extinction.  The closest breeding population is 125 south of the border in Sonora State.  The Center for Biological Diversity calls the proposed jaguar management plan, "an extinction plan, not a recovery plan".  The Fish and Wildlife Service is directing its resources toward conserving Mexican jaguars.  Surprisingly that policy is supported by one of the world's leading Panthera experts, Alan Rabinowitz.  He maintains there is no area in US territory that is essential to conserving the jaguar.  However, Mexican jaguars are also under threat.  Besides inbreeding, difficult desert living conditions and wildfires, several jaguars are shot each year by Mexican ranchers for alleged predation.  How many are poached for their beautiful coats is unknown.  It is a federal offense to kill a jaguar in Mexico, but there is little enforcement of the law (Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!).

On the other side, the US Fish & Wildlife Service has lost three separate lawsuits which forced it to develope a conservation plan for the American jaguar, but it is dodging the controversial issue of reestablishing a resident population by importing Mexican females north. Female jaguars stay relatively close to their mother's home territory, making natural progression north painfully slow.  Research shows it may take 45-85 years for southern jaguars to reach the US sky island habitats such as the Santa Rita Mountains where El Jefe lived [photo].  Private conservation agencies are trying to fill the obvious gap in official policy. The Northern Jaguar Reserve is purchasing land to expand its eighty square-mile protected Sonoran habitat for the cat.  The reserve is home for the cats favorite prey animals, deer and javalina, who live in green canyons midst the desert scrub. Also, the reserve maintains a compensation program for agriculturalists who cooperate in photographing cats on their land using camera traps. An estimated one hundred twenty jaguars roam the area.

Want to know about the New World's "king of the jungle"?  Watch this History Channel documentary in HD.  Yes, they had to construct sets in the Belize forest to capture the images, so in that respect the documentary is artificial.  But the pinnacle predator is so elusive a certain amount of contrivance was necessary to capture a close-up portrait of an incredible lifestyle.