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Sep 11 2012

Such a fine line between stupid and clever

Kitty! Jaguar Macho B in 2009.

I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this article: it’s either one of the silliest pieces of writing I’ve ever seen on endangered species issues, or a fiendishly clever way of roping ecologically apathetic adolescent d00dz into getting behind a conservation issue:

Usually, endangered species stories are lame. It’s some stupid owl or lizard or some other animal that nobody actually cares about.

Not this time. This time an animal actually worth caring about it [sic] getting some protected habitat. And if we’re really lucky it’s going to maul a few hikers.

The writer’s referring to a proposal last month by the US Fish and Wildlife Service that 838,000 acres of rough terrain on the US-Mexican border be designated Critical Habitat for the jaguar, the result of a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in Tucson. The designation covers mountain ranges stretching from the Tohono O’odham Reservation eastward to the southwesternmost corner of New Mexico. Jaguars were pretty much extirpated from the US  early in the 20th Century, but there have been sightings of male jaguars over the years in parts of the proposed critical habitat, including one sighting and capture in 2009 that ended sadly.

Not mentioned in the d00dz-targeted article linked above: the largest impact of the critical habitat designation, if it’s approved, will likely be to cause problems for the proposed Rosemont copper mine in the Santa Rita mountains. CBD says the mine is its main concern with regard to protecting Arizona jaguar habitat. In response, in a statement likely to provoke wry smiles around these parts, a Rosemont Vice President accused CBD of bullying.

In any event, despite the enthusiasm of the Uproxx writer linked up top, the designation doesn’t mean we’re getting more jaguars: it just makes it somewhat harder to damage jaguar habitat with the federal government’s help.

So: stupid or clever? Uproxx writer Dan Seitz at least makes an effort to drop a little science, and he doesn’t get it completely wrong:

One theory maintains that peripheral populations are key to maintaining a species’ biodiversity. Species that live on the very edge of the range tend to develop new traits and evolve in different ways, then interbreed with other populations and pass on those useful mutations.

“Key” is an overstatement: some people do in fact suggest that peripheral populations may well be important for maintaining diversity in some species, but that certainly isn’t the only factor involved. Still, I wonder if I shouldn’t credit Seitz for slipping a little bit of science into a publication that features stories like this one, which is probably not safe for work even though it doesn’t involve stupid owls or lizards or some other animal that nobody actually cares about.

21 comments

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  1. 1
    Fred Salvador, Onion Jumbler

    Who doesn’t care about owls? :-(

    Surely the salient point here is that the only interest animals have is living directly in the path of free commerce. Jaguars are clearly pawns of the Marxist Zapatistas and therefore it is in the interest of freedom and justice to ignore these calls for a protected habitat whilst killing them all. Otherwise there’ll be copper in a mountain that nobody can make money off of, and not being able to make money off something is just un-American.

  2. 2
    EnoNomi

    Why don’t they throw in that the jaguars could handle border patrol too?

  3. 3
    danseitz

    Hi there, author here!

    The opening was a bit of comedy for the sake of not being dry. That article is part of a subsite on Uproxx called Gamma Squad, dedicated to nerdy topics, so I take it for granted that our audience knows I’m not a dudebrah.

    I freely admit I’m not a trained biologist (or scientist of any kind, just somebody who likes it and tries to incorporate some of the fun/interesting stuff as part of his job), but for me the interesting part was that the US used to have a large cat like the jaguar, something I genuinely didn’t know, and why the government would make this choice, scientifically speaking. This isn’t something you see on the news and may only catch in passing on the Twitter feed of a pop-sci blog, and I thought it deserved more attention.

  4. 4
    Chris Clarke

    Howdy Dan; thanks for stopping by.

    I freely admit I’m not a trained biologist (or scientist of any kind, just somebody who likes it and tries to incorporate some of the fun/interesting stuff as part of his job),

    That makes two of us.

    This isn’t something you see on the news and may only catch in passing on the Twitter feed of a pop-sci blog, and I thought it deserved more attention.

    Agreed.

  5. 5
    rq

    But why can’t frogs (for example) get the same ‘macho’ attention?? Probably because they can’t maul anyone to death… *sigh* Extinction is such a low-key affair when you’re not some fancy predator.

  6. 6
    Chris Clarke

    Frogs aren’t fancy predators?

  7. 7
    Chris Clarke

    Glib response aside, though, I’m with you rq. Long live charismatic mesofauna!

  8. 8
    Stella

    It’s a terrible thing that people don’t usually care about endangered species, but sadly it’s a fact.

    Thanks for giving the subject some attention, Dan. It is pretty cool, and I had no idea there used to be jaguars in the US until I read this either.

  9. 9
    w00dview

    Surely the salient point here is that the only interest animals have is living directly in the path of free commerce. Jaguars are clearly pawns of the Marxist Zapatistas and therefore it is in the interest of freedom and justice to ignore these calls for a protected habitat whilst killing them all. Otherwise there’ll be copper in a mountain that nobody can make money off of, and not being able to make money off something is just un-American.

    I would not be surprised if some randian asshole from the Cato Institute said this without a whiff of irony.

  10. 10
    Crissa

    I didn’t even know that there were any Jaguars remaining in the desert range they once had. Wow. Cougars are scary enough.

    The current methods for copper mining is severely immiscible with wildlife: Lots of explosions and strip-mining. The mountain probably does contain some nice copper – but there are many other idled mines that could be worked instead. This is why we should take away mineral/land/water rights that go idle so that they can be repurchased when needed or denied when impacting wildlife, people, or otherwise negatively.

    It’s not like the mountain grows back copper while it’s idle.

  11. 11
    katkinkate

    Is there actually a breeding population there? I thought US just got the occasional wandering visitor. I like the idea of the government resuming rights that are unutilised for a period of time. So much of the land has all relevant rights bought up and held in corporations hands and so denying the use of the land by anyone else.

  12. 12
    Chris Clarke

    Katkinkate, to my knowledge the confirmed sightings have all been of single males. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if someone here knows more.

  13. 13
    shockna

    the largest impact of the critical habitat designation, if it’s approved, will likely be to cause problems for the proposed Rosemont copper mine in the Santa Rita mountains. CBD says the mine is its main concern with regard to protecting Arizona jaguar habitat. In response, in a statement likely to provoke wry smiles around these parts, a Rosemont Vice President accused CBD of bullying.

    I’ve heard very little about this case, but of course it has to involve the goddamn pit mine. Those fuckers won’t be satisfied until they destroy everything good about the Santa Ritas and surrounding habitat.

    Next time I advocate against the mine proposal, I’ll be sure to mention this; here in Tucson, there’s a pretty large population that value protection of endangered species and environmental balance.

    Surely the salient point here is that the only interest animals have is living directly in the path of free commerce. Jaguars are clearly pawns of the Marxist Zapatistas and therefore it is in the interest of freedom and justice to ignore these calls for a protected habitat whilst killing them all. Otherwise there’ll be copper in a mountain that nobody can make money off of, and not being able to make money off something is just un-American.

    This sounds rather like the local politicians around these parts who support Rosemont. Of course, they never mention the Jaguars; for them, it’s all about insulting those who wish to preserve the natural beauty of the Sonoran desert (which, for anyone who’s never been to Tucson, is nothing like the stereotypical “miles of lifeless sand dunes” desert).

  14. 14
    rq

    Thanks for that link, Chris (where are all the ‘ordinary’ green/brown frogs?). Would have replied, but time zones, you know.
    Long live charismatic mesofauna! And yes, the jaguars, too.

  15. 15
    Stacy

    But why can’t frogs (for example) get the same ‘macho’ attention?? Probably because they can’t maul anyone to death…

    I dunno. They can achieve badassery when provoked.

  16. 16
    wcorvi

    And here I thought the purpose was to set aside a huge swath of land for illegals and drug trafficking into the country. This would kill two birds with one stone – cheap drugs and cheap labor, to do those jobs americans don’t want to do, at least at the wages we pay – oh, no, sorry, so they can better their lives.

  17. 17
    John Morales

    [OT + meta]

    wcorvi:

    And here I thought the purpose was to set aside a huge swath of land for illegals and drug trafficking into the country.

    Your cynicism is noted, but note also that they are only “illegals” because the law says they are, and that coffee, tea and alcohol are legally trafficked into the country.

    (If your argument rests purely on the basis of legality rather than that of harm, then mere strokes of the pen would change all that)

  18. 18
    David Marjanović

    Illegality is what keeps the labor cheap.

  19. 19
    rq

    Stacy – The end of that video is my favourite part. Although, you know, if that were a jaguar, it would totally have swallowed the entire arm. (Can jaguars flick their tongues fast enough to win the game, though?)

  20. 20
    viajera

    But why can’t frogs (for example) get the same ‘macho’ attention?? Probably because they can’t maul anyone to death…

    Don’t know about you, but I would have hated to meet one of these guys in a dark alley. Especially if I were a baby dinosaur!

  21. 21
    rq

    I feel somewhat vindicated; so many people seem to be willing to come to the defense of those poor, defenseless frogs!

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