International conservation program brings endangered jaguar to Arizona Only wild-born jaguar in an American zoo

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November 24th, 2008

This young male jaguar will give biologists a chance to learn more about a population segment of the species. After years of planning, an endangered jaguar made its way from Sonora, Mexico to Arizona recently. On loan from Mexico, the young male cat will call the Phoenix Zoo home for at least the next year before returning to a zoo in Mexico.

The loan was orchestrated by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the zoo as a way to provide needed medical care to the animal. Illegally captured, the jaguar damaged its canine teeth while in an inadequate enclosure, which precludes it from ever being returned to the wild. The Phoenix Zoo agreed to provide the necessary dental surgery.

“The arrival of this jaguar in Arizona is exciting for so many reasons,” said Arizona Game and Fish Department International and Borderlands Program Manager, Francisco Abarca. “Not many people realize that the jaguar is native to the United States, so to work in cooperation with Mexico and the Phoenix Zoo to bring it here provides us with an important chance to learn more about a virtually unstudied population segment of the species.”

Biologists will also be conducting DNA studies on the cat during its stay to learn more about the population segment that uses southern Arizona and New Mexico as the northern extent of its range. Biologists will be observing the animal to learn more about how it varies from individuals in other population segments and the different adaptations it may have assumed for its own habitat range.

“We are very excited to be able to continue to play a role in the important efforts of the Jaguar Conservation Team,” says Phoenix Zoo President/CEO Norberto J. (Bert) Castro. “Obviously, our first priority is the health and well-being of this animal. While the jaguar’s medical issues are being addressed by our veterinarians, Phoenix Zoo guests will have the opportunity to see this magnificent cat up-close as it serves as an ambassador for all jaguars left in the wild. They’ll also be able to gain a better understanding for jaguars’ plight in the wild through our interpretive information.”

The Jaguar Conservation Team was established in Arizona and New Mexico in 1997 to protect and conserve the species. The group began working with Mexico two years later, realizing that the United States jaguar population depends on the conservation of the species in Mexico.

For more than 20 years though, the Game and Fish Department has been cooperating with Mexico on an international borderlands conservation program that has resulted in the return of several species to the state, including Gould’s turkey, Yaqui fish, desert pupfish and an expanded population of Sonoran pronghorn.

Jaguars once ranged from southern South America through Central America and Mexico and into the southern United States. By the late 1900s, jaguars were thought to be gone from the U.S. landscape, but two independent sightings in 1996 confirmed that jaguars still used Arizona and New Mexico as part of the northern most extent of its range.

The species has been protected outside of the United States under the Endangered Species Act since 1972. That protection was extended to jaguars within the U.S. in 1997, the year after their presence in the Arizona and New Mexico borderlands was confirmed.

Jaguars are the only cat in North America that roars. They prey on a variety of mammals, fish, birds and reptiles. Individuals in the northern population weigh between 80-100 pounds. Females breed year-round and have litters of one to four cubs that stay with their mother for nearly two years.

Partners involved in the effort to bring the captive jaguar to Arizona include Game and Fish, the Phoenix Zoo, Sonora Commission for Ecology and Sustainable Growth (CEDES by its Spanish acronym), Mexico Wildlife Service (DGVS by its Spanish acronym), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Carnivore Working Group of Sonora led by Naturalia, a non-profit Mexican conservation group.

The project is made possible by the Heritage Fund and Indian gaming revenue. Started in 1990, the Heritage Fund was established by Arizona voters to further conservation efforts in the state including protecting endangered species, educating our children about wildlife, helping urban residents to better coexist with wildlife and creating new opportunities for outdoor recreation. Funding comes from Arizona Lottery ticket sales.

2 Responses to “International conservation program brings endangered jaguar to Arizona Only wild-born jaguar in an American zoo”

  1. Congratulations AZ Game and Fish! The safe and succesfull capture and collaring of the most beautifull animal in AZ. Well planned and executed. You guys are heroes.

  2. My neighbor came upon what he believes was a Jaguar in the Baja village of Erendira, Wednesday night, February 18, 2009. Erendira is about 40 miles south of Ensenada. As he was driving through the valley from Highway 1 to Erendira his truck´s headlights lit up what he first thought was a leopard standing over a road kill. The cat had dragged the dead animal off the road and barely moved as he drove by. My friend was in such awe that he didn´t stop or turn around to confirm what he saw. Ira is a retired U.S. Navy Lt. Commander and is quite believable. I often travel with him and his wife and always have my camera at the ready. We drove by the place were he saw the cat yesterday on our way to Ensenada. This morning I heard on TV that a Jaguar was collared and at the Phoenix zoo and that news made me realize what Ira actually had seen. Thank you for your efforts, George Lanning

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