Science

Jaguar makes rare appearance in the U.S.

By James Maynard , Jun 29, 2013 11:41 AM EDT
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A jaguar has been spotted in the mountains of southern Arizona, the first such animal seen in the United States since 2009.

The male jaguar appears to have been in this area, southeast of Tucson, for the last nine months. He has been photographed by remote motion-sensitive cameras seven times in five different locations in the eastern Santa Rita Mountains. It is believed that deer and javelina (a wild mammal related to pigs) are the in the area, providing the jaguar with prey.

"[S]o as long as there is food available, he is able to hang around there," Tim Snow, an Arizona Game and Fish Department non-game specialist, said.

The pictures, taken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, filed by the Arizona Daily Star. The cameras are owned by the University of Arizona, and were originally set up for use in a research project.

This discovery could indicate that jaguars are moving from their traditional grounds in northern Mexico up to the southwest U.S. This particular animal was first spotted by a hunter in September 2012, who photographed his tail. The hunter sent the picture to state officials who began to carefully watch for the creature.

A 1,300 square-mile area of Arizona and New Mexico, where the jaguar appeared, may soon be named as critical habitat for jaguars by Federal officials. The Arizona Game and Fish Department is opposed to the move, as there is no sign that there is a female with whom the male might mate.

"That solitary male jaguar is no reason for critical habitat. We don't have any breeding pairs...If that was critical habitat, we would still be doing the same thing that we are doing today. We are not harassing that jaguar or modifying normal activities there that are lawful today," Jim Paxon, department spokesman, said.

The final decision of the Wildlife Service will come August 20, 2013. The decision could also affect the possible construction of an open-pit copper mine in the area. Rosemont, the company who intends to construct the mine, claims it will be able to collect 10 percent of the nation's copper at full production.

Jaguars roamed as far north as the Grand Canyon and were spotted in southern Texas as recently as the 1940's. They have been on the endangered species list since 1997. The last known U.S. jaguar, Macho B, died in Arizona at the age of 15, in 2009.

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