Learn About our Conservation Work with Jaguars

In Arizona and New Mexico, a state-led Jaguar Conservation Team (JAGCT) is working to protect and conserve a species that many people do not even know is native to the United States. Created in 1997, JAGCT is a voluntary partnership among state, federal, and local government agencies, private individuals, and other entities with an interest in jaguar conservation. Their efforts and those of colleagues in Mexico are helping create a more promising future for the jaguar in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

Program goal: Protect and conserve jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico and, through cooperation with Mexico, in the adjacent borderlands.

jaguar conservation

Jaguar Critical Habitat Response to FWS

Department’s Full Comments on Designation of Critical Habitat for Jaguar

Public records provided in response to Dec. 9, 2016, request for records in AZGFD’s possession since the Department was advised of a jaguar’s presence in the Huachuca Mountains on Fort Huachuca.

about the jaguar conservation program

JAGCT activities include: compiling scientific literature and occurrence information; developing protocols for jaguar sighting-verification, handling, capture, and verification of prey killed; creating an education curriculum; monitoring jaguar presence (primarily through the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project); and developing procedures for the Malpai Borderlands Group (MBG) to use in voluntarily compensating livestock owners for documented losses to depredating jaguars. One depredation has been documented as of February 2009; MBG compensated the livestock owner.

JAGCT has also assessed the possible effects of several predator control methods on jaguars and formed various committees to deal with other issues related to jaguar conservation. A Scientific Advisory Committee advises JAGCT on its objectives in and approaches to jaguar conservation. The advisory committee includes several of the most renowned and well-published jaguar conservation experts in the world, as well as expert veterinarians and two scientists who have been working with bordelands jaguars for a decade or more.

As JAGCT tasks are completed, reports and other documents are made available here in downloadable format, or in printed form upon request. Be sure to look here for periodic updates on JAGCT activities.

Jaguar conservation team: Final summary notes
Jaguar conservation team: Habitat committee final summary notes

Public Records Provided

In response to an April 24, 2017 request, for all records in AZGFD’s possession related to jaguar sightings in Arizona since January 1, 2010

Jaguar public records provided

Background Information

Jaguar distribution

In the mid-1800s, the jaguar’s distribution extended virtually continuously from southern Brazil and Argentina north throughout South America and Central America, then along the coasts and the western mountains of Mexico into the southwestern United States as far north as the Grand Canyon. Truly historical records in the United States extended much farther east, west, and north than Arizona-New Mexico-Texas but that was long before the West was settled. Jaguars occurred in southern Texas as recently as 1946 and 1948, but no sightings have been documented since then. Records from Arizona and New Mexico from the 1900s were primarily of single animals that were killed in south-central Arizona or southwestern New Mexico. By 1990, jaguars were thought to have been eliminated from the United States. That changed in 1996 when two different male jaguars were photographed in southwestern New Mexico and Arizona. Today, the northern-most known population of jaguars is centered about 140 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border, in Sonora. Any jaguars that occur in the AZ-NM/Mexico borderlands almost certainly belong to that population.

Jaguar current status

In 1996, independent discovery of two different jaguars changed prevailing perceptions about the species’ presence in the United States. On March 7, 1996, houndsman/rancher Warner Glenn discovered and photographed an adult male jaguar in southwestern New Mexico (see Eyes of Fire, below). It was the first jaguar documented in the United States since two were killed illegally in Arizona in 1971 (near Nogales) and 1986 (Dos Cabezas Mountains). Then, amazingly, on August 31, 1996, yet another houndsman, Jack Childs, discovered a different adult male jaguar in south-central Arizona (see Ambushed on the Jaguar Trail: hidden cameras on the Mexican Border, below). In no small way, Warner Glenn’s and Jack Childs’ discoveries and their passion for jaguars are responsible for inspiring the borderlands jaguar conservation effort in which they continue to participate today.

By 2009, the team’s monitoring efforts, including continued vigilance by Glenn and Childs, had confirmed occurrence of four different adult male jaguars (possibly as many as six) since 1996 in the borderlands of southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. No females or sub-adult males were documented during that period. The last documented female jaguar occurrence in Arizona was in 1963, when one was shot near Big Lake, White Mountains. Other females have been reported for Arizona, notably one with a cub in 1910 and another with two cubs in 1906. No records exist for occurrence of any female jaguars in New Mexico.

The monitoring data are not sufficient to reveal whether even one of the jaguars documented between 1996 and March 2009 was continuously present in the United States, even within a single year. However, the data are sufficient to confirm that the jaguar Jack Childs observed on August 31, 1996 was present in Arizona many times between that original sighting and its death on March 2, 2009 (Macho B). Macho B was photographed by remote camera-traps dozens of times over that period, in a home range of about 500 square miles — just considering the Arizona component. Macho B also was documented crossing the border in both directions. Nobody knows how widely he traveled in Mexico, before returning to Arizona.

Legal Status: Although there are different challenges in different areas, loss and fragmentation of habitat and illegal killing continue to threaten jaguars throughout much of their range. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed jaguars outside the United States as an endangered species in 1972. The species was protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1973. In 1997, with enough solid biological evidence to indicate the Arizona and New Mexico borderlands are a legitimate (albeit tiny) part of the jaguar’s current range, USFWS extended the federal listing to include the United States. Jaguars are also protected by state law in both Arizona and New Mexico.

Jaguar conservation needs

AZ-NM/Mexico jaguar conservation efforts include owners of private lands, ranchers on public lands, nongovernmental organizations, scientists, and state and federal agencies in Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico. They are all working to identify and meet jaguar conservation needs throughout the borderlands. Progress has been made since 1997 but a variety of significant conservation needs still exist: (1) jaguars in the borderlands must be protected from unlawful killing; (2) state criminal penalties in Arizona and both civil and criminal penalties in New Mexico should be commensurate with federal penalties; (3) borderlands jaguars must be studied so that all conservation decisions about them are better informed by credible data about their occurrence, diet, behavior, and habitat use; (4) borderlands habitats must be managed in ways that provide the basic elements that jaguars must have — native prey, cover/shelter, water, and natural corridors that enable movement back and forth across political boundaries and from one area to another within those boundaries; (5) jaguar conservation efforts in the United States must continue to integrate more effectively with those in Mexico; and (6) outreach is needed to inform and educate agencies and the public about borderlands jaguars and their legal protections and ecological needs.

Hopefully, the conservation efforts being designed and implemented today by JAGCT and its cooperators, including the public and Mexico, will help provide future generations in the United States and Mexico with a unique gift — continued existence of jaguars that roam freely across the U.S. – Mexico border and throughout the borderlands!

Jaguar Sightings: Report any possible jaguar sightings immediately to the Arizona Game and Fish Department (520-388-4449 or 623-236-7201) or to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (505-522-9796). Take very detailed notes on your observation before reporting it. Surprisingly, it is very easy to mistake many things as a jaguar, including bobcats, mountain lions, feral housecats, and even dogs. It costs time and money to investigate possible sightings, so please be careful about reporting leads, especially if the sighting involves a black animal. Black jaguars have never been documented north of southern Mexico, many hundreds of miles south of the United States. In poor light, or when seen from an angle, the tan coat of a mountain lion can appear to be black — even to someone who has seen many mountain lions! Note: spots are clearly evident on all jaguars, even on the true black jaguars that occur in Central and South America and which are so prevalent in zoos around the world.

Jaguar capture

One of the more contentious topics that JAGCT has faced is capture of a jaguar. The need for detailed information about borderlands jaguar presence and behavior is beyond debate but the best way (or ways) to get that information is arguable. Trained, “scat-sniffing” dogs could provide a wealth of information, if conditions were right (e.g. not too arid or hot) and if funding were available to retain the services of both dog handler(s) and dog(s) for sufficient time in all months and seasons and to cover the costs of laboratory analysis of the samples obtained. “Track counts” and “hair snares” could also yield valuable information, again if sufficient numbers of observers were available to cover the target area in each month and season. These “non-invasive” techniques clearly have both potential benefits and limitations if applied to jaguars. One benefit is that they do not cause risk to the jaguar itself.

Less labor-intensive techniques are available that can ensure more continuous coverage and a wider array of detailed information. Remote cameras (“camera traps) have been providing jaguar location information in southern Arizona for several years, but typically the photos come in days to weeks or even months after an event has occurred. It takes quite a few days to run the 50 or so cameras that are dispersed across hundreds of square miles of rugged terrain. Over the past several years, though, these remote cameras have provided literally thousands of photographs of everything from recreationists (in one case, clothing optional!) and other human passers-by to javelina, mountain lions, bears, bobcats, opossums, and other species of wildlife. Literally dozens of the photos are whole or partial shots of jaguars (most are of Macho B). Camera traps clearly have benefits and limitations (fixed positions and camera angles) like the other non-invasive techniques and they also cause no risk to the animal itself.

In comparison, a Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite tracking collar on just one jaguar would yield about 1200-1500 specific time-sequenced locations per year, if programmed to upload data every 3 hours. The data could be downloaded and secure-accessed by monitoring staff anywhere that has computer access. GPS data would provide far more insights into how jaguars use the borderlands than any other approach. However, an animal must be captured before it can be collared and captured animals must be immobilized before they are collared and released. Immobilizing (tranquilizing) any animal, whether wildlife or human, involves risk to the animal and to the handlers.

After considerable discussion of the costs and benefits of various monitoring alternatives and drafts and final recommendations and protocols, the signatory member agencies present in a JAGCT public meeting on April 27, 2006 unanimously recommended that the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD), New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) authorize the capture, tranquilization, and radio-collaring of a borderlands jaguar, should an opportunity arise (JAGCT Briefing on Capture).

An intentional capture decision would prove difficult to make. It would require considerable preparation, including: refinement of existing coordination, capture, and handling guidelines; accumulation of a variety of equipment and supplies; presence of an age and condition-appropriate jaguar at a logistically-feasible site on public lands or on owner-willing private lands in capture-appropriate weather conditions (e.g. not too hot, little chance of flooding); and timely availability of necessary personnel.

AZGFD already had and still has the authority to capture a jaguar. This authority is vested in various documents approved by USFWS (AZGFD Section 10a1a Permit 2007-2011 ; AZGFD Section 6 Work Plan Segment 20 ). NMDGF did not and does not have such authority and would need to request it from USFWS. Regardless, as noted in several JAGCT meetings from 2005 through 2008, in view of the JAGCT recommendation both state wildlife agencies intended to coordinate more fully with USFWS and with each other at the Director level on all aspects of capture before making final decisions to exercise any current or future authorities regarding intentional capture of a jaguar.

While awaiting agency decisions on intentional capture of one or more jaguars, in 2007 JAGCT again revised its protocols for jaguar handling (Jaguar Handling Protocol ). The JAGCT capture guidelines invoked more detailed capture and immobilization guidelines that had been published by the Wildlife Conservation Society in 2005 (WCS Jaguar Health Program Manual).

Note: the WCS guidelines are now mainained by Panthera, an international “wild cats” conservation organization that was founded in 2006 by the reigning jaguar expert in the world, Alan Rabinowitz, and others.

An intentional capture decision (the right jaguar at the right time at the right location) had still not occurred as of February 18, 2009. But, on that date AZGFD inadvertently captured a borderlands jaguar (subsequently identified as Macho B) in a foot-hold snare. The snare-set location, in a remote area southwest of Tucson, was known to be used by three mountain lions and two bears. AGFD researchers set the snare to capture one of those lions for an ongoing study of wildlife corridors.

The work JAGCT had done to prepare for intentional capture of a jaguar was put to good use by the AZGFD researchers. They used the handling information (with updated information on anesthetic and dosage recently provided by two expert veterinarians) to immobilize, process, and GPS-collar the snared jaguar before releasing it on site, after it recovered from the drugs. Was there a choice regarding immobilizing the jaguar? No. Once that jaguar was in the snare, the researchers had to drug it to remove it from the snare; if it had to be drugged anyway, it might as well be GPS collared so we could learn more from it.

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