Conservationists want jaguars reintroduced to the southwestern United States

An environmental group on Monday asked the US Fish and Wildlife Service to help reintroduce the jaguar to the Southwest, where it roamed for hundreds of thousands of years before being reduced to just one of the big cats known to survive in the area.

The male jaguar, named Sombra – shadow in Spanish – has been seen multiple times in southern Arizona since it was first captured on a wildlife camera in the Dos Cabezas Mountains in 2016, including a 2017 video speak Center for Biological Diversity. There are a handful of jaguars known to live across the border in the Mexican state of Sonora.

The center wants the federal agency to help expand critical jaguar habitat into remote areas and start an experimental population in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, along the border with Arizona.

“More than 50 years after the jaguar was placed on the endangered species list, we shouldn’t be faced with the realistic prospect that this unique Arizona jaguar will be the last,” said Michael J. Robinson, senior conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, wrote to Martha Williams, director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

“This could be an incredible opportunity for us to restore a native species that has been here for hundreds of thousands of years and deserves to come back,” Robinson said in an interview.

Jaguars roamed North America before being killed almost to the point of extinction for their superb spotted skins and to protect livestock.

Robinson said failure to do something could also affect efforts to save Mexico’s dwindling jaguar population that needs the kind of genetic diversity possible through mating with a new group of big cats to the north. .

Jaguar populations in many places from Mexico to South America are also declining. They are being reintroduced to their historic range in Argentina through a program in which they are bred in captivity and released.

The center was among environmental groups involved in successful efforts to kick-start the recovery of the gray wolf population that nearly disappeared half a century ago.

Like jaguars, gray wolves once roamed most of the United States, but were wiped out in most places by the 1930s during government-sponsored poisoning and trapping campaigns.

A remnant population in the western Great Lakes region has since expanded to some 4,400 wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. And more than 2,000 wolves occupy six states north of the Rockies and the Pacific Northwest.

North America’s rarest gray wolf subspecies, the Mexican wolf, was listed as endangered in the 1970s and a US-Mexican captive breeding program was started with all seven wolves then existing.

Results from the latest annual survey of Mexican gray wolves released in March showed at least 196 in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona – the sixth consecutive year that the wolf population has increased.

Robinson said efforts to protect the jaguar never benefited from the momentum of the campaign against the gray wolf.

“People forget or don’t know that the jaguar actually evolved in North America, going from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and then spreading south,” he said.

Concerns about the jaguar’s future were mentioned in a letter the center sent Oct. 19 to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, giving his administration a 60 days notice of intent to sue to stop the ongoing placement of shipping containers along the US-Mexico border.

The letter says the San Rafael Valley in southeastern Arizona is one of the last established corridors for jaguars and ocelots between the two countries.

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