When one thinks of a Jaguar, they typically think of a fairly large cat skulking through a thick rain forest. Now, if I were to ask what countries the jaguars actually resides in; I would probably get a variety of different countries, mostly in South America. But what if I told you that the jaguar once roamed the southern United States. There was actually a recent sighting in Arizona of a jaguar roaming the local mountain range. This is not the first sighting of this elusive cat in recent years. Since 1996, as many as seven jaguars have been documented in southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico (1). The last cat that was previously found in the United States was given the nickname of “El Jefe” which translates to “The Boss” in Spanish. El Jefe was first spotted in 2013, and researchers believed he was the only wild jaguar in the United States until this new jaguar was spotted in early December of 2016. El Jefe and this new jaguar are both males, so even if this cat crossed paths with El Jefe, no mewing jaguar kittens would result to increase the population (2).
A picture of “El Jefe” taken by a trail camera.
Photo: The Arizona Republic
Even if there is little hope for the population of these cats to make their way back to the United States, this is still great news to hear. Two jaguars living in the United States where most residents did not even know that Jaguars even existed. The ever-expanding United States was actually the cause of the jaguar’s demise in the first place. As cities and companies needed to expand, the deforestation of certain areas was the response to adjust to the growth. During the last 100 years the big cats almost completely vanished from the continental U.S. thanks to habitat loss and federal programs aimed at protecting livestock (3). The jaguars would harm livestock, and farmers saw this as a loss of profit and would take care of the situation as they saw fit. They would hunt and kill the jaguars, so, that could not harm their livestock ever again. Also, the fur of the jaguar was highly coveted. All of these were factors that led to demise of the jaguar population in the United States.
A map of the jaguar’s range.
Photo: Defenders of Wildlife
But worry not, because there are groups who are dedicated to help conserve the jaguar population in northern Mexico and southern United States. The Northern Jaguar Reserve in Sonora, Mexico, main focus is to protect the northernmost remaining jaguar population. Initiated in 2003, the growing reserve protects key habitat for the last breeding population of northern jaguars—offering hope for their recovery in the United States (4). Jaguars in northern Mexico need to be protected so that the jaguar population can re-enter Arizona and be re-established in the U.S (5). As long as conservation efforts maintain a success rate then the future hope would be to slowly introduce those jaguars back into the United States. This is just one group that is trying to make a positive effort to help the jaguars. Another way that groups have been trying to help conserve the jaguar population is urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service to set up an effective plan that is actually beneficial towards the population. In recent years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife undervalues the importance of the jaguar’s northern range and fails to prescribe adequate conservation measures to help the jaguar recover its former U.S. territory (4). From a governmental stand point, it seems as if they do not want the jaguar to be reintroduced into the United States. If the population would become educated on the cat and the history it has with this nation then hopefully we could correct our wrong.
As long as groups like Defenders of Wildlife stay persistent in their goal to hold government to stay true to listening to the public to conserve the jaguars, then I could see a positive effort being made. Right not now the government is minimalizing their effort, but if they actually draft a plan that is worthwhile that actually encompasses all of the jaguars’ needs then I could see big things start to happen. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must issue a robust recovery plan that supports the restoration of jaguars to the full array of ecological settings that they occupied before they were eradicated (4). So, is the jaguar making a comeback to the United States? As of right now, I say it is a longshot for the jaguar to make a return to the United States given the circumstances of the governing body. As long as conservation groups are still arguing in favor of the jaguar then there still is hope.