I am as interested as the next person in knowing all there is to know about Macho B’s death and the lessons learned, but I think it’s time to begin looking forward. To that end I contacted many of the Q&A particpants from this blog and other interested parties and asked one question: What is the next vital step in ensuring the continued existence of jaguars in the US? I will post the replies here in the order I received them and no doubt there will be a huge diversity of opinions. But I think it’s good to remember that we all want the same thing- wild jags inhabiting wild land in the US. But, as always, the devil is in the details!! Anyway, here goes:
Dr David E. Brown– co-author of the “SW jag bible” Borderland Jaguars = Tigres de la Frontera with Carlos A. Lopez Gonzalez:
There are no jaguars in the U. S.–at least none that we know about. Their continued existence is therefore moot. Waiting for another jaguar to show up is also likely to be frustrating as to have jaguars in the U. S. you have to have at least two, a male and a female. We have not had “jaguars” for a very long time if ever. Hence, a release or translocation is necessary–something that no agency is likely to undertake at present.
Diana Hadley– President, Northern Jaguar Project:
Protection of jags in northern Mexico.
Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA Grassland Coordinator, Jag Team Member, Arizona Game and Fish Department:
As discussed many times, it is important to maintain and conserve those habitats used by wildlife for traveling and living. With large predators like jaguars, mountain lions, and bears, large tracts of land are needed for their existence. We will continue working with our partners on both sides of the border to promote and conserve jaguar populations, which will allow for the opportunity for the continued existence of the species into the US. The border fence has a huge potential of severely impacting wildlife movement and we need to find solutions which will allow for wildlife conservation and homeland security. The Jaguar Conservation Team (JAGCT) is a proven forum for the exchange of ideas and solutions. We just need to keep encouraging those entities to keep coming to the table. While there are some critics of the JAGCT, it was because of the Jaguar Conservation Team the world had the opportunity to meet and see Macho B on a regular basis and keep jaguar conservation in the minds of some members of the American public. While recovery of the species will need to occur south of the US border, the JAGCT is committed to the continued existence in the US by sound habitat management of our federal and private lands. To provide the public the opportunity to find a jaguar track in southern Arizona is no different to me then ensuring they have the opportunity to hear a Mexican wolf howl in the White Mountains or a bald eagle scream on Lake Pleasant, seeing a California condor soar over the Grand Canyon, hearing black-tailed prairie dogs bark in the grasslands near Sonoita, or watching a black-footed ferret dance across the Aubrey Valley. The challenge will be to ensure these opportunities exist in the future. With wise planning, open communications, and a commitment to sustaining our natural resources, those opportunities will be there for all to enjoy.
A year ago, I wrote a candid letter to officials of the Arizona-led Jaguar Conservation Team (JAGCT) about the urgent need to get on with habitat conservation work after 12 years of stonewalling:
“While JAGCT committed to habitat conservation in its founding plans and agreements, it has been severely hampered by ideological opposition within the group to that very task. Unless this problem is resolved, JAGCT will continue to be ineffective in conserving jaguar habitat. And conservationists will continue to pursue legal action and other means to transfer primary responsibility for jaguar conservation to the federal government, or find other institutional alternates to JAGCT.”
What remains absent to this day– and what is critically needed — is a genuine jaguar recovery program that includes comprehensive habitat conservation. Among the vital work that needs to be undertaken:
- Rigorous ongoing efforts to protect jaguar habitat linkages.
- Proposals for and promotion of county, state, and regional wildlife reserves and parks that cover key jaguar habitats.
- Advancement of progressive county conservation planning with special consideration for the jaguar and other wide-ranging wildlife.
- Political work with the Department of Homeland Security and the Obama Administration to disallow and remove border fencing in key wildlife movement corridors.
- Vigorous planning with public land management agencies, transportation agencies, power companies, etc. to avoid projects that destroy jaguar habitat.
Some authority must step up to the plate now and undertake or coordinate these and similar actions — or we will lose the jaguar forever. Bold and less political leadership are essential to tackle complex threats to jaguars.
An effective jaguar program should be possible under our new Interior Secretary. Lean on him hard folks, now is the time! http://jaguarhabitatusa.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/lifenet_ltr_salazar_3-6-09.pdf
The US Fish & Wildlife Service needs to muster the resources and clout to mobilize public land managers, county planners, private landowners, state authorities, the border patrol, and others in a focused campaign. A well-designed recovery plan, an open-minded and competent recovery team, and Teddy Roosevelt style leadership to get the job done would be a good start. And yes, population augmentation or re-introduction of jaguar should be “on the table.”
By the way, little seems to get done these days for endangered wildlife that does not involve the impetus of the US Endangered Species Act or some other mandate (see the journal Conservation Biology Volume 23 pp. 53-63 for a related discussion). Even Pima County’s exemplary multiple-species conservation plan is driven by that. And recall that JAGCT itself was created in an attempt to forestall listing of the jaguar (which fortunately happened anyway). Thus, conservationists would be wise to support designation of critical habitat for jaguars. If that happens, I can just about guarantee we’ll see new voluntary initiatives to protect jaguar habitat!
There are some who continue to argue that habitat in Arizona is in good condition so we need not fret about doing anything special for the jaguar, or that we need to focus only on cross-border connectivity, or that after all there is no jaguar habitat in the US! This kind of thinking, insofar as it affects policy decisions, is a death knell for jaguars here.
In truth, while our other large carnivores (mountain lion and black bear) may hold their own for a time under conditions of ongoing habitat loss and degradation, no one should expect the more sensitive jaguar to rebound under such odds. Even if jaguars can make it through the border gauntlet that won’t matter if their habitat is too fragmented and diminished to support them in Arizona.
As for those who say there is no good habitat for jaguars in the Southwest consider this: In my life time, at least 11 jaguars have been killed in Arizona, one within miles of my home. Macho B lived a long life, much, if not most of it, in Arizona. There is no reason why jaguars cannot thrive here – if only we welcome and help them.
JC Bravo, Naturalia:
I cannot say I know the US conservation issues in enough detail to share a knowledgeable opinion on the measures needed to ensure jaguar conservation north of the border. What I do know is that preserving large carnivores is always a complex issue with no single “Most relevant” item on everybody’s list. Unfortunately jaguar survival in the US does not depend on any single action, measure, process or law.
In my humble opinion habitat is the most urgent need, so Arizona would do well in preserving as much as there is already and restore every possible hectare.
But habitat alone won’t do it. Collaboration with ranchers and hunters is a must to prevent the jaguars in the border region from being shot while conservationists “keep house”.
And of course it still looks like the animals are breeding in a threatened environment in Sonora and moving north when and if they can, so with no effective conservation in Mexico there is no way a breeding population of jaguars can survive in Arizona anytime soon.
It is a complex issue but not an unsolvable issue, and if we stick together and all do our best in each one’s front I am sure our descendants will be able to see a healthy thriving jaguar population in the US.
To all the jaguar conservation community in the US
Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity:
The March 2 death of the last known wild jaguar in the United States, Macho B, is a loss to science and a loss to our sense of hope for the remaining wildlands of the Southwest. It is also an opportunity to learn and apply any hard-earned lessons to jaguar conservation.
The initial necropsy on Macho determined that the stress of capture likely hastened his death. Administration of a tranquilizer drug is thought to have further stressed his kidneys.
Several questions seem worth asking:
Should Arizona Game and Fish have taken additional precautions given Macho’s age? Is it possible to capture jaguars safely in snares given their very small numbers in our country? What was the decision-making process that led to placement of snares in the same mountain range as where an old jaguar roamed?
Two jaguars died in 2002 and 2003 shortly after capture in Sonora, Mexico, after which jaguar experts warned that snares may not be appropriate for capturing jaguars. Despite this warning, Arizona Game and Fish still placed snares in the same mountain range where Macho B had recently been found.
The Center for Biological Diversity unequivocally supports research to better understand the habits of jaguars in the United States. But it is imperative that such research be conducted with the least possible risk.
Research also should contribute to conservation. Under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to appoint recovery teams to develop scientific recovery plans for endangered species. The Endangered Species Act also requires protection of critical habitat, which would protect jaguar habitat from a multitude of threats, including mining, urban sprawl, roads and others. The Bush administration, however, steadfastly refused to appoint a recovery team to develop a recovery plan or designate critical habitat.
On March 23, the Center for Biological Diversity will argue in federal court in Tucson that the refusal to develop a recovery plan or designate critical habitat for endangered jaguars was illegal and should be reversed.
One other role a recovery team could play is to provide oversight of research. Had a team already been appointed, perhaps it could have prevented Macho B’s untimely death. A recovery team is now needed to investigate Macho’s demise, evaluate the record of jaguar captures and recommend research methods consistent with jaguar recovery.
Both designation of critical habitat and development of a jaguar recovery plan are endorsed by the American Society of Mammalogists, which noted that “Habitats for the jaguar in the United States, including Arizona and New Mexico, are vital to the long-term resilience and survival of the species, especially in response to ongoing climate change.”
Macho’s death was more than the loss of a rare, beautiful life full of hidden power and mystery. It was also one more symbol of the unraveling of ecosystems and the disruption of the natural balance. The hidden presence of jaguars in our mountains is part of the reason that deer developed their alertness, that bighorn sheep can climb almost-sheer cliffs to safety, and that javelina in herds act aggressively when threatened.
With careful planning informed by science, we can ensure that big spotted cats will forever be a part of the wilds of the Southwest.
Michael J. Robinson is a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity and is author of Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West (University Press of Colorado, 2005).