Ron Thompson Q&A


I decided to add a coati pic from Emil’s camera. Jaguars are the best, but coatis are cool, too!

I’m pleased to present this Q&A with Ron Thompson, who works on the ground in Sonora. His background and work makes for fascinating reading. Thanks to Ron for taking the time to answer my questions!

1. Please tell us a little about your background.
I co-own the company Primero Conservation Outfitters.  Primero means
first and foremost in Spanish. My partner, Gordon Whiting, is a
businessman, ex Arizona Game and Fish Department Commissioner and
currently a reserve officer with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
I am retired from state and federal government as a wildlife
biologist, most of which I spent in wildlife law enforcement.

2. How did you get involved in jaguar conservation?
During my law enforcement work we recovered the last jaguar (a mount)
known to have been killed in the United States (1984) during an
investigation at a time when the federal government had listed jaguars
as endangered south of the border.  We had protected the jaguar south of
the border but failed to protect them in the U. S. When I saw the
mounted animal and the photos I was amazed at how an animal had
traveled so far and at how the mighty Endangered Species Act could not
protect it.  In addition, I was lucky enough to be asked assist in a jaguar
capture effort being conducted by a PhD candidate,Octavio Rosas Rosas,
in the Rio Aros basin of Sonora, MX where the furthest known northern
population of jaguars was known to exist.  No one knows if there is
still breeding female jaguars in the study area. All one has to do is
see a jaguar track in the Sierra Madre and they will become involved in
jaguar conservation.

3. Please tell us about Primero Conservation Outfitters and your
jaguar work in Sonora.

The idea for Primero Conservation Outfitters was formulated over a
campfire (and a little bacanora-it does not take much) during my first
trip to the Rio Aros
area and is based on the North American Model of Wildlife Management
(look it up on the web).  Dr. Octavio Rosas Rosas and his adviser at the
time, Dr. Raul Valdez, had started a jaguar conservation unit in Sonora
known as an UMA and recognized by the government of Mexico (Semarnat)
as the “Programa de Conservacion del Jaguar en la Sierra Alta de
Sonora”, hence referred as the Association. There were 8 ranchers with
14 ranches that agreed to not kill
jaguars on their ranches in an economic exchange for us bringing gringo
hunters to their ranches to hunt white-tailed deer.  The hunts were
advertised as “conservation hunts” with us paying the Association about
twice the going rate for a regular deer hunt in that part of Sonora.

4. Do you believe the Rio Aros/Bavispe population is the source of the
jaguars seen the SW United States?

Only good science can answer this.  There has been no GPS-collared
jaguars or rosette pattern photos identified of jaguars from remote
cameras that indicate jaguars disperse into the U. S. No one knows
where the nearest female is that is producing young that may or may not
cross the border.   I believe there are no recent photos of young
animals observed in the U.S. and those taken by Warner Glenn and the
Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project (Jack Childs and Emil McCain) are
currently of adult male jaguars.

5. How do you answer those who say the Rio Aros/Bavispe jaguar
population is dying out and doomed?
Dying out is not really a biological term, being driven toward extinction
is more appropriate.  I have heard the “doomed” word for the human race,
but not yet for jaguars.  There are herculean efforts underway that only
time will tell how successful they really are toward conserving and
protecting a subpopulation of jaguars in Sonora.  The Jaguar Conservation
Team, Northland Jaguar Project, Naturali, Borderlands Jaguar Detection
Program, Sky Island Alliance, The Nature Conservancy, Malipai Borderlands,
Arizona Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish,
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, all the state and federal agencies in
Mexico-who have the real responsibility for managing the jaguar in Sonora
and throughout Mexico and organizations I have not listed, all are
committed to the same cause.  I wish there was as much attention paid to
my health and welfare.

6. What do you see as the environmental results of the proposed border
Broad questions get broad answers-Disastrous!

7. How is the border fence perceived by the Mexican ranchers and
biologists you work with?

The ranchers want to know what we are afraid of and the Mexican biologists
want to know why we are crossing their border to assist with the
conservation of an animal that is their responsibility.

8. What is the general attitude of the ranchers you work with
toward jaguars specifically and carnivores in general?
 Now remember, the
last of the Apache people living in Sonora were captured or killed as
recently as 1935 in the very area where the jaguar is still extant in
Sonora.  That may be why it has persisted so long with a short lapse and
then more recently our appetite for drugs has protected huge areas in the
Sierras from invasive human actions.
Most ranchers in Sonora generally see conservation from an economic view
point.  Remember, most of the land in Mexico is private and a calf is
worth about $1.50 a pound on both sides of the border. Large carnivores
(mountain lions and jaguars) in Mexico eat beef and have eaten (wolves)
beef.  If it can benefit them financially they will consider economic
options.  I love them for our capitalistic ways, but they do not yet have
the financial freedom to support programs such as a wolf reintroduction
program.  There are no finer people than rancheros or vaqueros of the
Sierra Madre, but some of them get up every morning wondering what has
eaten their livestock during the night, for it may mean the difference of
what they eat that night.

9. What are your thoughts on the future of jaguars in the SW US and

I have a guarded positive for a continued existence of a subpopulation of
jaguars in Sonora. A jaguar has to mean more than a cow if it is to

10. What does the jaguar mean to you? I equate the survival of the jaguar
to our own survival. Kind of hoekee I know, but If we can save an animal
from our own self destructiveness than there might be hope for us.
Besides, who wants to go into the Sierras without a wolf, jaguar or
grizzly still around?
11. Anything else you’d like to add? Everyone keep doing your part for
wildlife conservation or stay at home and do not drive anywhere.

6 Responses to “Ron Thompson Q&A”

  1. Frank Carroll Says:

    Ron Thompson is truly one of the great conservation biologists of the past 40 years. If you knew how hard it is for him to pronounce words in Spanish you could more greatly appreciate his fearless approach to his work in la tierra incognita south of the Border.

    His words about our friends and allies the vaqueros and rancheros are poignant. Look it up, Thompson. We are committing one of the great errors of our generation in blocking our southern border, not only to the free movement of wildlife, but to our best friends.

    The people who are trying to kill us are not Mexicans. Without the Mexicans we won’t save the jaguar. It’s time for a more rational approach to border politics.

    Americans and Mexicans should be greatful that Ron Thompson is wandering the world’s far rim, watching over the animals on the edge of eternal night.

    God bless Ron and his work.

  2. swjags Says:

    Thanks for visiting, Frank. I’m with you on this!

  3. Charlene Says:

    Save The Jaguars!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Kjirsten Says:

    I’m fascinated by the conservation efforts in Sonora and I’d like to come down at Christmas to float the Rio Aros, but I’m having trouble finding information. This may not be the best venue, but can you point me in the right direction for information on rafting down there? Thanks.

  5. swjags Says:

    Hi Kjirsten- From my understanding, the recreational/eco-tourism opportunities in the area are just about nil. It’s very very rough country, mostly ranching concerns without any infrastructure for visitors. That being said, I don’t have any first hand knowledge one way or the other. Perhaps you might look for a Sonoran govt tourism site? Or look for any companies offering raft trips in Sonora? Good luck!

  6. acetip-9 Says:


    […]Ron Thompson Q&A « Southwest Jaguars[…]…

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