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Nov 30 2012

Sneaking this in before Anti-Caturday

And therein hangs a tail.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department released a camera trap photo this past week that shows what Game and Fish has officially decided is a jaguar, or at least the last bit of one, in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson, Arizona. The photo was captured in September. 

This is big news for a couple reasons. The jaguar, North America’s largest cat, has been more or less extirpated from Arizona and New Mexico, which were part of the species’ historic range. (As was much of the southern US, a couple hundred years ago, from California to Texas, with vagrants wandering as far east as North Carolina.) But there’s a population of the cats centered in Northern Mexico about 140 miles south of the border from which individual males have been found heading to El Norte every now and then. (No females have been found in the US since the species’ rediscovery in the states in 1996.)

Naturally, wildlife protection folks are thrilled every time it seems as though a formerly native big predator might be making a comeback, and jaguars are no exception. The conservation group Center for Biological Diversity sued the US Fish and Wildlife Service a few times starting in 2003 to force the agency to designate critical habitat for the cat, which would provide a meager amount of protection to lands the jaguar might possibly use in the US. This past summer the Feds actually did designate some critical habitat for the jaguar, more than 830,000 acres of it in six chunks across the mountains of southern Arizona and New Mexico. (The area works out to just under 3,400 square kilometers for those of you in the civilized world.)

(Also for those of you in the civilized world: it’s pronounced either “ha-guar,” as the Sonorans do, or “dzha-guar,” like Western U.S. gringos do.  The three-syllable “dzha-gyew-are” pronunciation is ridiculous and decadent and you should stop it immediately.)

6,990 acres of land in that critical habitat is set to be gouged out and blasted away as part of the proposed and controversial Rosemont Copper Mine in the Santa Ritas. Another 138,000 acres or so is expected to be significantly impacted by mining activites, including noise, dust, traffic, and things like leachate. Understandably, there’s controversy over whether a large copper mine is really the right use for habitat deemed critical for the survival of an endangered species, especially when the region has existing mines that are just waiting for a rise in the price of copper to become economically viable again.

The U.S. Forest Service announced a couple of weeks ago that it wasn’t going to meet an informal December goal for releasing the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Rosemont Mine project. That may be, in part because — as the scuttlebutt has it — the cat tail photo reposted above was apparently taken right on the edge of what would be come the mine’s pit. I can imagine that would throw a wrench into the document preparation.

Of course, as big and troubling as the mine is, there are a couple larger issues facing the jaguars of Arizona and New Mexico. Roaming males do not a viable population make. The jaguar’s core Northern Mexican populations in Sonora and Jalisco are in better shape, but they’re not without threats from ranching, development, and hunting. And if those populations are protected sufficiently, and we manage to establish protected habitat up north for them to wander into, there’s the small issue of the 1,951-mile fence some yahoos have decided we need running between San Diego and Brownsville, Texas.

This isn’t the only recent prominent jaguar sighting in the area. Not far from where the above cat tail was photographed, a male jaguar — dubbed Macho B — was captured in 2009 in a foothold snare set for bears and pumas, then radio-collared and released by AZ Game and Fish workers. Game and Fish maintains the capture was accidental, though subsequent investigation by the Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General found that may not have been precisely accurate. A few days after his capture and release Macho B stopped moving. He was located and recaptured, brought to a zoo veterinarian and euthanized after vets determined his kidneys had failed. Macho B was between 16 and 20 years old, pretty old for a wild jaguar, and the investigation linked above suggests that he may have had chronic kidney disease that was worsened by his breaking a canine about when he was captured. The OIG report concluded that Macho B’s initial capture was probably deliberate and certainly illegal. Game and Fish rejects the report’s conclusions, predictably. The documents are sad reading whichever side you believe.

Macho B just after his first capture. RIP.

47 comments

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  1. 1
    Greta Christina

    Guess what? Cat butt!

    Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

  2. 2
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Cat tail actually though that’s a plant!

  3. 3
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    More seriously, interesting well-written article and sighting here.

    Always thought the jaguars were very much South American cats with pumas the notreamericano (sp.) ones.

    Wonder if Human Induced Rapid Global Overheating (HIRGO) could actually help the jaguars spread into North America (eg. southern USA) by making the climate more tropical /sub-tropical (?) and thus suited to it?

    Of course even if true, that sure doesn’t outweigh the myriad other negative often horrifically negative consequences of HIRGO.

  4. 4
    howardpeirce

    Can I just put in a good word for my favorite North American felid, the jagarundi? Within my lifetime, jagarundis ranged into Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, but no more. Yet they’re common enough in the southern part of their range that they’re listed as “Least Concern” by the IUCN.

    Which is a bit of a pisser considering that they’re extinct — extinct! — north of the Rio Grande. How can you not love a blue wildcat that looks like a cross between a cougar and a dachshund?

    It’s not that I don’t love a jaguar as much as the next guy, but ecosystems need mesopredators, too.

  5. 5
    microraptor

    @StevoR- No, climate change is likely to cause that region to become more arid, especially if glaciers keep receding and we keep diverting more water from the rivers and lakes for our own use. Increased desertification would make it harder on the jaguars, since it would decrease the amount of prey the land could support.

    @howardpeirce- Jagarundis are awesome.

  6. 6
    MattieF

    (Also for those of you in the civilized world: it’s pronounced either “ha-guar,” as the Sonorans do, or “dzha-guar,” like Western U.S. gringos do. The three-syllable “dzha-gyew-are” pronunciation is ridiculous and decadent and you should stop it immediately.)

    This is why I love you. Not especially because of how that last sentence sounds when imagined in a british accent.

  7. 7
    MattieF

    Pardon: “Not Especially” -> “Especially”.

    Please excuse the decadence of my self-correction.

  8. 8
    NelC

    It may not be authentic Hispanic-American pronunciation, but it is English pronunciation. I guess it’s nice to sound as though you’re well-educated in foreign pronunciation, but without fluency in the language one risks sounding either pretentious or an idiot. There’s an established English pronunciation, just as there is for any number of loan-words, so why not pronounce it the way we’re used to?

    Note that this isn’t English language exceptionalism; from my limited knowledge of other languages (but particularly Japanese), their speakers pronounce imported words in the way that fits the sounds of their native language.

  9. 9
    swestfall

    Awesome!

    I hope jaguars begin to recolonize their former range in the US, which was originally as far east as western Louisiana.

    If you want to read some fun stuff about some “cryptozoology” jaguars Rafinesque wrote about one that was killed in Kentucky and a two black ones that were killed in New York and Pennsylvania. (All black jaguars, however, have been traced to wild populations south of the Isthmus of Panama). There is also some “tigers” that looked like spotted lionesses in colonial North Carolina.

    I doubt that jaguars made that far north and east in historical times, but the truth is they did have a more extensive range in the US.

    Maybe they are coming back.

    The real problem is they just aren’t doing well in Mexico.

    Here’s a good site about conserving jaguars in northern Mexico and (by extension) the United States:

    http://www.northernjaguarproject.org/

  10. 10
    NotAProphet

    If one is pronouncing words ‘authentically’, then one might consider pronouncing them as the originators of the language one is speaking do. I assure you, the British car brand has all three syllables!

  11. 11
    hyperdeath

    Assuming it got there naturally of course. Another explanation:

    1. Idiot buys exotic pet.
    2. Idiot belatedly realizes he’s incapable of looking after pet.
    3. Idiot dumps pet in wilderness.

  12. 12
    rq

    This is exciting news!
    What a photogenic animal, in that first photo. What cattitude! What poise! What absolute ennui with the human world, what casual disregard towards the trappins of technology!

  13. 13
    rq

    Uh, ‘trappings’. Got a little over-excited there, myself.

  14. 14
    John Morales

    [meta]

    Um, rq. Perhaps not the best choice of words, given the subject.

  15. 15
    carlie

    Greta – my younger child and I have a years-long ongoing battle to see how often each of us can trick the other into saying “guess what?” :D

  16. 16
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @5. microraptor : Makes sense. Thanks.

  17. 17
    rq

    John
    [meta]
    You may be right.
    Will consider word choice in the future.

  18. 18
    alektorophile

    Simply one of the most beautiful animals there are. Given the amazing wide open spaces still available in the western US (logging and mining interests permitting), one can only hope that “dzha-guars” will be able to establish a viable population somewhere. In my corner of the Alps, the last 30 years have seen the (aided) reappearance of lynxes and the (unaided) slow recolonization of the area by wolves, bears (alas not permanently yet), and the first documented sighting of a golden jackal (Canis aureus) this very year. Unfortunately, given the widespread human presence in every nook and cranny of these mountains, wolves and bears are having a hard time finding any space at all. And those sheep and goats sure are a tempting, easy meal. Ranchers in NM and AZ probably not too happy about a new predator showing up in the area?

  19. 19
    shouldbeworking

    The photo looks like some of my photos. Biut mine usually has a thumb in the shot.

  20. 20
    kitwenchferret

    So – a cat that was really old for the species died of kidney failure in captivity because as it began the natural process of dying some idiot decided they needed to re-catch it ON Purpose just to see if they could prove someone else had caught it on purpose as well?

    And of course they’re sure that this accidental capture was intentional (mind-readers never want to share their secrets, pout) and they’re sure that it’s someone’s *fault* the cat died (because kidney failure and extreme old age are clearly not REALLY enough to kill it?!?) and they’re really upset about it.

    Also, since they have proof that there are NOT any breeding populations in the area, it makes perfect sense to prevent the land owners from use of the land in order to protect the idea that maybe at some point a breeding population MIGHT come to exist?

    Baffling.

    I love the great cats.
    They’re gorgeous and fierce and adorable.

    And frankly, copper mines ARE a waste of space.

    But let’s not conflate the issues.

    Go after the copper mine based on the fact that it’s another USELESS copper mine destroying the land and STOP screwing with endangered recovery causes by inserting them into so many places that the general public gets sick of hearing how deranged some of you really are.

  21. 21
    Chelydra

    On a related note, state-verified cougar photos are increasing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This fall a radio-collared animal has been photographed by game cameras several times, seemingly indicating that these really are animals that have travelled all the way from the Dakotas, not the result of escaped or released pets.

    #3 StevoR, cougars are actually native across all of South America as well!

  22. 22
    Paul K

    kitwenchferret

    If an endangered species, especially a large predator, can re-establish itself, that means the area it’s entering is in good shape for a variety of other life. This is not a bad thing. Preventing landowners from the ‘use’ of land that will keep the land unusable by big cats is, in my view, often a bad thing; especially since so many of these places are not really appropriate for agriculture, ranching, or rich green lawns, let alone unnecessary mining operations.

    Or maybe I’m just deranged.

  23. 23
    Rey Fox

    kitwenchferret:

    And of course they’re sure that this accidental capture was intentional (mind-readers never want to share their secrets, pout)

    There was an investigation. The reports are linked in the OP. You may not believe them, but there’s no need to make yourself look silly with the “mind-reader” comment.

    Paul:

    Or maybe I’m just deranged.

    Caring about ecology and wild animals is a sure sign of derangement.

  24. 24
    MG Myers

    Thanks for the great article, Chris! You do a wonderful job increasing awareness of environmental issues. Love the humor too!

  25. 25
    Chris Clarke

    STOP screwing with endangered recovery causes by inserting them into so many places that the general public gets sick of hearing how deranged some of you really are.

    Your concern is noted.

    Incidentally, the landowners likely to be prevented from using their own land if the wrong decision is made in the copper mine issue are… me. And the Center for Biological Diversity. And the deranged jaguar lovers of Tucson. It’s public land, and the mine would be owned by a subsidiary of a Canadian firm.

    Not that that kind of wonkish detail really ever matters for someone seeking to get a good anti-enviro rant on.

  26. 26
    RFW

    Another example of a predator long driven out of its former habitat returning. Here in Victoria, BC, we get cougars (pumas to the uninitiated) and bear, which happen to be the only significant large predators on Vancouver Island, wandering into the urban area. (No wolves – but one hears rumors.)

    But oh lordy! when there’s a sighting, the schools are locked down, the earth mothers have hysterics worrying about their precious snowflakes, and the wildlife people tend to shoot to kill rather than either trap and relocate or (in my mind even better) just ignore the critters. After all, they were here first.

    True, cougars have been wandering into downtown Victoria forever, but it seems like it’s more common now, and the black bears have started to turn up. Why the increase? I think that it’s because both rabbits and gray squirrels were introduced to the area within the last few decades, and these provide easy pickings for young predators setting out on their own. Also, leash laws are in force, and effective. It’s easy to imagine that when the area had thousands of dogs wandering around at night, big predators stayed away.

    A third predator that’s returned in spades is the bald eagle. A notoriously skittish bird, there are now a number of nests in the urban area near the shoreline. This is perhaps better viewed as the recovery of a species formerly on the downturn due to chlorohydrocarbon insecticides (e.g. DDT) thinning eggshells.

    Among the ruminants, so far no urban elk, but deer have become a plague.

    Now if only the giant Pacific octopus would come onto the land. Some of those earth mothers are pretty big and would make excellent noms for a giant ceph.

  27. 27
    Sili

    (Also for those of you in the civilized world: it’s pronounced either “ha-guar,” as the Sonorans do, or “dzha-guar,” like Western U.S. gringos do. The three-syllable “dzha-gyew-are” pronunciation is ridiculous and decadent and you should stop it immediately.)

    If you want to lecture people on pronunciation, use bloody IPA.

  28. 28
    w00dview

    1. Idiot buys exotic pet.
    2. Idiot belatedly realizes he’s incapable of looking after pet.
    3. Idiot dumps pet in wilderness.

    Florida’s ecological problems in a nutshell.

  29. 29
    nohellbelowus

    The three-syllable “dzha-gyew-are” pronunciation is ridiculous and decadent and you should stop it immediately.

    So if I understand you correctly, Chris:

    Jaguar doesn’t rhyme with What a nag you are.

    (Just kidding! Big cats in Tucson! Love it! Go UofA Wildcats! Sorry, wrong species!)

  30. 30
    Paul K

    Rey Fox:

    Caring about ecology and wild animals is a sure sign of derangement.

    I think a lot of folks truly believe that. People who think climate change is an elaborate hoax to make climate scientists rich. Or people who think the animals were ‘put here’ a few thousand years ago for us to exploit. Or people who think everyone should be ‘free’ to fuck up whatever they want to, as long as it makes them money.

    Wait, what am I saying? I’m deranged.

  31. 31
    Paul K

    And thanks, Chris, for pointing out that these lands are federal property. My property. Git off it!

  32. 32
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    If they find out it is just a tail, I’ve got a cat who could use one.

  33. 33
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    So… funny story. I was in Arizona the other night, trying out my new Jaguar Suit, and some weird automated camera takes a picture of my butt!

  34. 34
    ChasCPeterson

    It may not be authentic Hispanic-American pronunciation, but it is English pronunciation.

    No, it’s British English pronunciation. American English pronuciation was one of Chris’s approved options.

    cougars (pumas to the uninitiated)

    Oh, the “uninitiated” are just as correct, just as are people who call them mountain lions, panthers, painters, screeamers, catamounts, or the probably dozens of names in Spanish, Portuguese, and native American languages by which they are (or used to be) called. There is no official or correct name except the scientific binomial. (Puma concolor; the other memberof the genus Puma is the jaguarundi).

    Some of those earth mothers are pretty big and would make excellent noms for a giant ceph.

    Are you talking abut people here? Is it misogyny, fat-shaming or hippy-punching, or all three? Asshole.

    If you want to lecture people on pronunciation, use bloody IPA.

    because why?

    Florida’s ecological problems in a nutshell.

    well, that and sugarcane.

    these lands are federal property. My property.

    Exactly. I always try to call out the phrases ‘federal land’ or ‘government land’. It’s fucking public land.

  35. 35
    llewelly

    IPA: It gives the motivated the opportunity to look up and work out the intended pronunciation, while depriving the incurious of the illusion they knew the intended pronunciation.

    Also a category of ale.

  36. 36
    Sili

    because why?

    Because eye-dialect is useless to people who don’t already know the intended pronunciations.

    All these ad-hoc respelling are good for, is figuring out Clarke’s own dialect. Assuming of course that one is already familiar with the variety of pronunciations he’s trying to convey.

    Shorter me: for the same reason you biologists use binomial nomenclature and doctors use Latin.

  37. 37
    A. R

    Unfortunately, IPA is also useless to anyone who can’t work out the ridiculous symbols used.

  38. 38
    Sili

    Unfortunately, IPA is also useless to anyone who can’t work out the ridiculous symbols used.

    As I said, just like binomial nomenclature and doctors’ Latin.

    Or maths for that matter.

  39. 39
    A. R

    But at least you can look up Latin or binomial nomenclature and instantly figure out what was said. You have to translate IPA symbol by symbol, and understand the phonetics of each one. It’s a ridiculous, egregiously decadent system reliably comprehensible only to those trained in it.

  40. 40
    krubozumo

    In these parts they call them Onca. I have lived/worked here (N. Mato Grosso/Amazonia) for 17 years off and on and have never seen an Onca. Most of my work is done on foot in the bush with at most two other people and usually none.

    Such an amazing animal. I did once see a large paw print in a sand
    bar that was slowly filling with water… Onca reputedly love water. Last I heard, their ranges though still quite extensive are being progressively fragmented by roads and settlements.

  41. 41
    procyon

    When I was living in Belize el Tigre snatched a neighbor’s dog one evening while a group of us were seated, out of sight, on a second story porch no more than twenty feet away. We heard a quiet yelp and later found pug marks and a little blood.

  42. 42
    bradleybetts

    Wow, I had no idea Jaguars ever got that far north! Awesome :) It does give rise to one question though; northern Mexico, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona are arid regions, correct? But Jaguars are rainforest cats. So… que?

    As for pronunciation, I can understand why you’d say that the native pronunciation was better, but how on Earth could you consider Western US pronunciation to be better? It’s wrong in two ways! ;)

  43. 43
    Kilian Hekhuis

    Also for those of you in the civilized world: it’s pronounced either “ha-guar,” as the Sonorans do, or “dzha-guar,” like Western U.S. gringos do. The three-syllable “dzha-gyew-are” pronunciation is ridiculous and decadent and you should stop it immediately

    The British beg to differ…

  44. 44
    Gregory in Seattle

    If one were to give that photo as an award, it would be a catastrophy.

  45. 45
    scottportman

    It’s just great to see jaguars back in Arizona. True, so far they have all been males, but it’s still a good sign. Rural Sonora and Sinaloa have experienced a population drop due to NAFTA (corn prices drop, farming doesn’t pay, people migrate to cities) and due to narcotrafficantes and general insecurity. A rural culture is disappearing, but there is a silver lining. Parts of the Sierra Madre are still pretty wild, remain pretty wild, and jaguars are still wandering back in those canyons. Males end up in Arizona because jaguars are reproducing and the male territories farther south are full. Male cats always wander farther than females and have larger home ranges. This is why we don’t (yet) see females in AZ.

    I hope we never build that silly fence and that there is contiguous wild land between SE Arizona and N Sonora forever.

    Just wish we had more mountain lions here in the Midwest to control the deer populations, and maybe some mountain lions down in Arkansas to get the feral hogs under control. A mountain lion was recently photographed in western Illinois, probably another wandering male from the Badlands or Colorado. Several have come through in recent years, all males, and all eventually die from car collisions or mixups with police. Just wish there was a more stable population and a few females up in MN or WI or MI so that an eastern population could re-establish itself. There’s still a lot of room in north america for apex predators. Long may they wander, long may they eat poorly supervised pets, long may they keep the deer alert.

  46. 46
    scottportman

    @bradleybetts 42

    Jaguars like rainforests, but they are found in grasslands and swampy areas (Pantonal in E Bolivia / Paraguay has plenty), and they also are found in seasonally dry forests such as the Sierra Madre and the Pacific Slope in NW Mexico. There once was a stable population in the Colorado delta, before we diverted all the water. Generally, jaguars don’t like snow and high altitude. They don’t like extreme deserts, but this part of SE Arizona is more a subtropical oak woodland/grassland than a pure desert. It’s actually pretty good jaguar habitat. It’s also a pretty good habitat for mountain lions, and I wonder how the two species divide up the resources. My understanding is that jaguars are fond of peccaries (common in SE AZ) and mt lions are more deer specialists. Came across a jaguar once in Costa Rica shadowing a white lipped peccary herd – never saw it, but when I walked back down the trail I noticed its half-hour old pug prints on top of my footprints and so I know it was watching both me and the herd of peccaries.

  47. 47
    microraptor

    According to some reports that I’ve read, in areas where jaguars and mountain lions occupy the same habitat, the mountain lions tend to be smaller than those that are found in neighboring areas that are free of jaguars, and tend to specialize more heavily in catching smaller game like rabbits and mid-sized rodents like pacas while leaving larger game like deer and peccaries to the jaguars, as a way to limit the amount of competition between the two cats.

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