Photo by NPR.org
I’m very pleased to post the following Q&A with Warner Glenn, the author of Eyes of Fire, rancher, mountain lion hunter and conservationist. In many ways, Warner’s photographs of a wild jag in 1996 were the spark for the last decade’s research, camera traps and conservation struggles over the jaguar; all lovers of these lovely cats owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Warner is on the Board of Directors of the Malpai Borderlands Group and has seen wild jaguars in the US twice. I thank him (and his wife, Wendy) very much for taking the time to answer these questions. I think you’ll find his answers fascinating! Any comments out there?
SWJ: As a rancher and mountain lion hunter, what is your feeling towards predators in general and jaguars in particular?
(A.) Predators in general: Should be controlled to a certain extent to allow a healthy prey-base to exist. Sport hunting for these predators is a good method of control but under management that monitors wildlife populations. I’m talking about, mainly, mountain lions and coyotes. Sometimes additional control measures other than sport hunting should be used, such as various forms of control on the coyote population.
(B.) Jaguars in particular: Certainly no control is needed on jaguars in the United States. Instead, complete protection of this animal should be endorsed by the livestock industry, hunting organizations, state game and fish departments, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, allowing for its present existence and recovery in the future.
SWJ: When you saw the jaguar in 1996 what made you reach for camera as opposed to your rifle? [I explained to Warner that I didn’t mean to offend him with this question, I was just wondering what was going through his mind that made him act differently than all the others who were in his position in the past].
Camera verses gun: In 1996 when I first realized it was a jaguar that the dogs were baying on the bluff, my first thoughts were, “ I‘ve got to get a picture of that animal!”
Since it was on top of a boulder and the dogs were at the base, I thought I would take what pictures I could, then gather my dogs and get out of there. It never entered my mind to shoot and kill it.
In the past when a jaguar was seen, people were of the impression they were to kill it. Not only was it a fine trophy, but it was a predator that had a reputation for killing domestic livestock and it was a rather rare and “macho” thing to say you had killed a jaguar. It was not illegal and there were even government hunters killing them occasionally.
Of course they were protected by Arizona State law in 1996 which I knew, but regardless of protected or not, I had no desire to kill this animal. They are extremely rare and deserve all the protection we can give them if they are to survive as a species.
SWJ: How does a jaguar at bay react differently from a mountain lion in the same situation?
WHEN BAYED AT CLOSE RANGE:
A mountain lion will growl, spit and hiss at the dogs, facing them in a threatening manner and at times reaching out with a quick thrust of a paw trying to sink its claws into the dog pulling it into biting range. To avoid being caught, the dog has to jump back quickly, then resumes its barking. The dogs can remain in fairly close range to the lion, who is usually in a half crouch or lying on his belly with its head up and threatening, with mouth open and snarling.
A jaguar seems to remain in a standing position and with head lowered, uttering a low coughing type growl until a dog gets too close. At this point the jaguar makes a quick, fast charge for 15 or 20 feet, attempting to catch the dog, who has to be extremely quick to escape this charge. With the charge, the jaguar lets out a loud roar, ending with a couple of low coughing noises and if he missed catching the dog, he then returns to his bayed position. If he catches the dog, the dog is going to get hurt bad. The jaguar means business, he is not bluffing.
SWJ: You have seen two jaguars in the wild; what’s the one thing that stays with you from these encounters?
From the two jaguars I have seen in the wild –lingering thoughts–
There is no one thing that stays with you.
There are several:
(A.) Once you have seen one in the wild you will never forget the beauty of this animal and the potential danger he holds for some creature that steps into his zone.
(B.) The jaguar seems to be extremely confident in his ability to survive most any situation.
(C.) He shows no fear, as far as I could tell, only annoyance about having been bothered.
(D.) They know what a human is and grow uneasy in his presence and want to avoid him.
SWJ: Do you have any plans to publish a follow-up to Eyes of Fire and detail your 2006 encounter?
Yes, I will be publishing something about this encounter, with pictures, in the near future.
SWJ: Since 1996 you have been involved with jaguar conservation. Please tell us little about that.
I attend the Jaguar Conservation Team (JAGCT) meetings held by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The JAGCT focuses on protection and recovery of the jaguar in the US and Mexico.
Personally, as a member of the Board of Directors of the Malpai Borderlands Group, we have set up and maintained a jaguar depredation fund that will compensate livestock owners who may lose some kind of livestock to a jaguar. To date, only one such depredation has been confirmed and paid for.
I also try to convince ranchers and hunters of the importance of protecting this species.
SWJ: What are your thoughts about the proposed border fence?
(A.) It would most certainly fragment and cut off most wildlife corridors to and from Mexico, probably ending most chances of jaguars coming into the United States from Mexico.
(B.) It would absolutely be a waste of time and money, as it will not keep out illegal immigrants or drug loads.
(C.) It would only tear up and degrade our whole eco-system . By building new roads on the border to build the fence in areas like ours here, it will open up more areas to illegal vehicular traffic, poaching and wildlife habitat destruction.
SWJ: What are your feelings about recent lawsuits demanding that the US Fish and Wildlife Service designate critical habitat for the jaguar in the US?
I am firmly against such lawsuits. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is made up of responsible, well trained wildlife biologists that will do everything within their power to protect and allow for the recovery of the jaguar in the United States. They realize that the most important thing for jaguar survival in the Southwest, is the protection and survival of the jaguar in Mexico, where our closest breeding population exists.
They have already done what they can and should do in the United States by listing the jaguar as an endangered species and placed a huge penalty on the killing of a jaguar in the United States.
I believe that a critical habitat designation in the United States for the jaguar would mean the end of any jaguar activity in the United States, because, when critical habitat is designated, it affects certain land use practices that are in existence at this time and, in fact are largely the reason a jaguar wants to pay us a visit now and then.
A large carnivore, such as a jaguar, needs a few basic things to exist.
1. Open country, (elbow room to travel) and wildlife corridors.
2. It needs a healthy prey base. (something to eat)
3. And it needs water.
At the present time, a lot of open country that is remaining is managed by ranchers who have chosen to stay on the land, and make a living rather than making the quick dollars and sell of to sub-dividers. These same ranchers develop and maintain permanent waters that furnish water for livestock and wildlife, year around, even in severe drought conditions.
These same people do a certain amount of predator control on their ranches that helps to maintain a healthy prey-base for a cat such as the jaguar. People that hunt with hounds control the mountain lion population in a well managed way to provide some protection for livestock and help leave a healthy natural prey-base for carnivores to work on instead of livestock.
The designation of critical habitat would only cause some of these very things to be a thing of the past and we would see fragmentation slowly take over the land that the jaguar finds inviting right now.
No more elbow room (open Country)
No more permanent waters for wildlife
No more prey-base for food, resulting from no predator control.
Also it would make a lot of people hate the jaguar.
The sad part is that it is not the jaguar’s fault, it is the people behind the lawsuits fault for trying to force something to happen that will only hurt the jaguar’s chance of survival.
SWJ: What do you see as the future for jaguars in the US?
I have hunted behind a pack of hounds for 50 years before seeing my first jaguar in the wild in the US.
Now in the last 11 years, I have seen two.
You can bet that I haven’t seen every one that has been coming and going, so, no doubt, there are more now than the last 60 years. This means they are not only doing better here, but must be doing okay in Mexico as well.
I believe with the conditions the way they are at present, and with the increased education and protection here and in Mexico, the future for jaguars in the US is encouraging. I would hate to see something happen at this time that could disrupt this favorable trend.
SWJ: Anything else you’d like to add? I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen 2 jaguars in the wild and hope that in the future the jaguar will be seen in the southwest much more frequently. I hope someday, that some birdwatcher, hiker, hunter, rancher, or outdoorsman will have a chance to see one of the cats. Not many people will ever see one in the wild, because of their secretive nature and great ability to blend into the landscape, but just to know there is a possibility is worth the trip for most people.They are a magnificent animal struggling for survival and they deserve our help. We’ve got to make sure it is the right kind of help for the jaguar, though, not someone just using the jaguar to further somebody’s personal agenda. I will do everything I can, if I think it will help this big cat survive in the future including fighting the designation of Critical Habitat.