Unique jaguar makes public debut

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February 17th, 2009

A wild-born jaguar currently in captivity in the United States made his public debut at the Phoenix Zoo on Feb. 7.

Illegally captured in Mexico, the cat suffered extensive damage to his canine teeth due to inadequate confinement, before being confiscated by the authorities and transferred to Centro Ecologico de Sonora, a large zoo located in Hermosillo. The Mexican government authorized a loan of the animal to the zoo so that critical dental surgery could be performed. The loan of the cat was coordinated by Game and Fish in partnership with the zoo.

Dr. Chris Visser, a board-certified veterinary dental specialist, volunteered his time to perform the two dental surgeries, which occurred prior to the jaguar’s public debut. Joining Dr. Visser in the effort was his son, human dentist Dr. Louis Visser, and a team of veterinarians who helped perform four root canals and three extractions to repair the cat’s life-threatening dental damage.

The jaguar spent the last month recovering and getting acclimated to his new exhibit and the Zoo’s female jaguar, with whom he will share the exhibit.

“Having this animal in captivity provides an exciting opportunity for jaguar conservation,” said Bill Van Pelt, the jaguar conservation program manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “DNA studies done during his stay will help us learn more about the little-studied population segment that uses southern Arizona and New Mexico as the northern extent of its range.”

The U.S. has listed jaguars as endangered since 1997. They 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 northernmost extent of their range.

This conservation effort was made possible through support from Arizona’s Heritage Fund. The Heritage Fund was established in 1990 by Arizona voters to further conservation efforts in the state, including protecting endangered species, improving wildlife habitat, educating our children about wildlife, helping urban residents to better coexist with wildlife, and creating new opportunities for outdoor recreation.

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