New Macho B controversy


photo: Arizona Game and Fish Department

Well, the AZ Daily Star has an article in today’s paper that is sure to throw gasoline on the smoking embers of Macho B’s case.

I think the wisest course of action is to wait for the full report rather than getting bits and pieces of information; there has to be a degree of acceptance from the public. I don’t have the training to interpret the data and what may sound significant to a layperson could actually be insignificant to a veterinary pathologist. I do think the headline the used is pretty cheesy, but they’re in the business of selling papers. Here’s the article:

4/1/09 See AZGF news release at the bottom of this post.

Did Macho B have to die?

Phoenix Zoo may have moved too fast to euthanize him, UA pathologist says
By Tony Davis
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 03.29.2009
Macho B may not have had chronic kidney failure after all.
Tissue samples from the last known wild jaguar in the United States showed no sign of kidney disease, the diagnosis Phoenix Zoo veterinarians made in deciding to euthanize him.
A pathologist at the UA’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, which reviewed the tissue samples, said authorities may have moved too fast to euthanize the animal early this month. Bloodwork state Game and Fish officials said showed “off the charts” kidney failure could actually have indicated dehydration, said Sharon Dial of the veterinary lab.
The zoo should have kept the animal on intravenous fluids for 24 to 48 hours before euthanizing it, Dial said. State Game and Fish officials and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials agreed to euthanize the animal about five hours after he first got fluids. Zoo officials made the recommendation based on blood test results.
Dial said it is unproven “dogma” among some medical experts that blood levels alone can be used to “make a definitive statement that this animal will not survive.” The zoo didn’t have enough information to determine whether the jaguar researchers named Macho B needed to be euthanized, she said.
“Nothing is absolute. There is nothing to say that he absolutely would have recovered, but I can say by looking at the kidneys that there is no structural reason why he would not have,” Dial said last week. “I’ve looked at a lot of cat kidneys, not jaguar kidneys. For a supposed 15-year-old cat, he had damned good looking kidneys.”
It’s possible Macho B had short-term, acute kidney failure that didn’t show up in the tissues, another lab pathologist said. But the lack of signs of chronic kidney failure in those tissues probably means the jaguar didn’t have kidney failure at the time he was captured in mid-February, said pathology resident Jennifer Johnson.
“Animals with chronic renal failure usually don’t have their coats in good shape,” Johnson said “They start to develop muscle wasting or atrophy. They do not look healthy and hearty.”
Shortly after the jaguar’s death, Phoenix Zoo veterinarian Dean Rice said the animal probably had kidney failure when he was initially captured that would have killed him within two months — although the capture probably aggravated the condition.

Snared accidentally

Macho B’s death came 12 days after its original capture in the oak woodlands of Southern Arizona, near the Mexican border. Officials said the jaguar was snared accidentally by a research project tracking the movements of mountain lions and bears. He was fitted with a radio collar and released. But researchers tracking its movements by satellite data noticed he had slowed down significantly, had an abnormal gait and had lost weight. They recaptured it March 2 and took it to the Phoenix Zoo, where it was euthanized later that day.
A UA lab-produced report on the jaguar’s tissue samples, which the Star obtained through a public-records request, is the first of three outside reviews of the case.
A federal wildlife lab in Madison, Wis., is analyzing the tissue samples. Both labs’ conclusions and the tissues will go to Linda Munson, a specialist on large cats and a professor at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. She has agreed to review the data at no charge to the state.
“We encourage a full review of each and every part of the data, so we can provide the most complete review of what took place,” said Terry Johnson, Game and Fish’s endangered-species coordinator.
Once all that is done, Game and Fish will post all the findings on its Web site, officials said.
The UA report’s author, lab director Gregory Bradley, declined to discuss its contents, saying the work was done for the zoo and is considered confidential. But pathologists who examined the tissue samples did talk, prompting a statement of outrage from Game and Fish.
Until all three reports are in, it is “unproductive and potentially irresponsible” to discuss one piece of the findings individually, Game and Fish said in a statement sent to the Star..
“It is outrageous, unprofessional and speculative of individuals from the Arizona Veterinary Diagnostic Lab not leading the case to comment and offer opinions based on very incomplete information. Those individuals from the vet diagnostic lab had no involvement with the evaluation and treatment of Macho B when he was alive, and so their comments are not valid or appropriate,” the Game and Fish statement said.
Phoenix Zoo officials referred questions about Macho B’s death to Arizona Game and Fish, which defended the zoo veterinarians’ recommendation to euthanize the cat.
“We recognize that in veterinary medicine, there are almost as many opinions as there are doctors and attorneys,” Terry Johnson said. “In this case, you’ve got the guys in the room up to their elbows in data on this animal. We asked them to give their best professional opinion.”

Truth versus opinion

Sorting truth from opinion will be difficult because officials chose to perform a “cosmetic” necropsy rather than a full one, outside experts said. The zoo conducted the less invasive procedure at the request of the wildlife service and the Game and Fish Department to leave the skin intact for an as-yet-undecided future use, Terry Johnson said. In a cosmetic necropsy, authorities make careful incisions so the skin can be salvaged, he said.
Arizona Game and Fish is considering using the hide to create a “live mount” of Macho B to be exhibited for educational purposes, according to an e-mail from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supervisor Steve Spangle, obtained through a public records request.
Mark Plunkett, a taxidermist in the Verde Valley, skinned Macho B’s carcass and sent the hide to a tanner to insure its preservation for storage and for any future use, Johnson said. Once the analysis of Macho B’s death is complete, the department will work with the Fish and Wildlife Service to decide how to permanently archive the skin and other remains, he said.
Preserving the jaguar’s body for use had trade-offs. A complete organ-system by organ-system necropsy would likely have provided better evidence about what led to its death, said David Jessup, a senior wildlife veterinarian for California Fish and Game. Tissue samples of the brain and spinal cord were not taken, for example, and they might have explained the jaguar’s unusual movements in the days before he was recaptured March 2.

Oldest known wild jaguar

Macho B was the only one of four jaguars that have been photographed in Southern Arizona and southwest New Mexico since 1996 that was known to be still living in the wild. He was also the oldest known wild jaguar anywhere. At the time of its capture, state officials pegged its age at 15 to 16. The vet lab said the cat was 16 to 18.
The UA report offered these conclusions about the jaguar’s tissues:
• The tissues examined didn’t indicate significant kidney disease.
• A small area in one section of kidney tissue showed papillary necrosis — a kidney disorder in which all or part of collecting ducts entering the kidney die. That, along with the presence of mineral and salt deposits in the kidney’s inner section, suggest “there was a degree of dehydration.”
• The papillary necrosis and the mineral buildup suggest the animal had pre-renal azotemia, a condition in which blood doesn’t flow through the kidneys and nitrogen-based wastes build up inside them.
• Sections of the kidneys known as tubules, an area where waste materials are concentrated into urine, showed mild to moderate dilation — a sign that cells there were farther apart than normal. But the dilation was probably brought about by intravenous fluids the cat had been receiving for five hours before its death, and wasn’t significant.
Dial acknowledged that she didn’t know how feasible it would be to keep a wild animal such as a jaguar on IV fluids for an extended period because it would not stay quiet and would become agitated under those circumstances.
“If he’d been a domestic cat, I don’t think he would have been euthanized,” she said.
As evidence that cats can survive acute renal failure, she pointed to a study published last year in the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine. It found that more than half of 32 domestic cats treated for acute renal failure at a New York City veterinary hospital over seven years survived. These cats’ initial bloodwork showed average values slightly lower on key indicators than what Macho B had, but some of the cats had sharply higher values than the jaguar did.
The cats’ survival rate depended to a large extent on their urine concentrations — the higher, the better their chances of survival, the study showed. Macho B’s urine concentration was low, according to a urinalysis conducted shortly after his death. But many veterinarians say urinalyses conducted on cats with large amounts of IV fluid in them are not accurate because the fluids dilute urine concentrations.

Some vets less critical

Some veterinarians who examined the lab report and necropsy at the Star’s request didn’t disagree with Dial and Johnson, but were less critical of the agencies’ decision to euthanize the jaguar.
“It might have been nice if we could have kept it alive a little longer so that fluids could have worked. But the fact that the cat hadn’t moved for awhile makes me think that something was going on and we don’t know what that was — it could be a central nervous system problem or problems in other locations,” said Lawrence McGill, a veterinary pathologist in Salt Lake City who is a spokesman for the American College of Veterinary Pathologists.
Ladan Mohammad-Zadeh, a Tucson veterinarian specializing in intensive care, said after reading the reports that she didn’t consider Macho B’s condition irreversible but she didn’t want to second-guess the decision to euthanize. She said she believed the cat had acute kidney failure because the bloodwork showed extremely high levels on a number of crucial indicators, including phosphorous and potassium.
It can take a few days from the time of injury to the kidneys before the problems show up in tissues, said Mohammad-Zadeh, of Southern Arizona Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center. The only way authorities could have known if the cat’s problems were treatable would be to keep it on fluids for several days, she said.
Veterinarian Jessup, of the California Department of Fish and Game, said he doubted the zoo’s euthanasia recommendation was based solely on the bloodwork because vets seldom make recommendations only on those numbers.
“If this were the only problem, more aggressive fluid therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs and other medications might have helped. … I strongly suspect the animal was non-responsive or poorly responsive,” he said, and that there is more information in other medical records at the zoo that contained a full rationale for euthanasia.
But in any case, said Dial, of the UA veterinary diagnostic lab, a full necropsy would have been best for a full understanding.
“The lack of total transparency in the handling of the case will not allow full understanding of what could have been done better” she said. “It is important to learn from every experience, to come together and improve the understanding of everyone involved so that there is no repeating of past mistakes.”
Contact reporter Tony Davis at 806-7746 or
Here are three related articles from today’s paper:

Other jaguars wear study collars

By Tim Steller
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 03.29.2009
Two jaguars are wandering a nearly impenetrable thorn scrub-and-cactus forest in Paraguay, wearing the same sort of collar that was put on the United States’ last known jaguar, Macho B.
The Global Star collars from Virginia-based North Star Science and Technology transmit a radio signal to a satellite system, which researcher Anthony Giordano of Texas Tech University uses to track the jaguars from anywhere. The lithium D-cell batteries can last up to two years.
Scientists frequently use radio collars for studying wild animals. They’re especially useful for learning an animal’s migration and feeding patterns, researchers said.
While the capture and sedation of the target animal can be risky, usually the wearing of the collar isn’t, they said.
Blake Henke, managing partner of North Star, said he donated the $2,500 collar put on Macho B to Emil McCain of the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project in 2008.
Arizona Game and Fish wildlife technicians put the approximately 2-pound collar on Macho B after he was captured in a leg snare on Feb. 18, then sedated.
The collar, made of several layers of industrial belting material, has two small antennas on top and an aluminum enclosure for the battery and transmitter on the bottom, Henke said.
The company’s collars are intended to weigh less than 5 percent of an animal’s body weight, Henke said. In the case of Macho B, the collar amounted to about 1.7 percent of his 118-pound weight.
“We were confident and the biologists were confident the collar was not going to harm the animal’s ability to survive,” Henke said. “We wouldn’t have a business if the collar killed the animals they went on.”
In fact, Arizona Game and Fish has bought 70 or 80 of the collars for use on mountain lions, bears and other animals, Henke said. E-mails among Game and Fish staff members show a strong preference for the collars provided by North Star over another company’s collars.
The jaguars in Paraguay, a male and a female, had been kept in a 2 1/2-acre enclosure but were released last week, Giordano said. Through this research project, a sidebar to his dissertation, he hopes to find out what the jaguars eat, what is killing jaguars, and whether their mortality rate is sustainable.
But all efforts to collar a jaguar mean trapping it and sedating it, procedures that bring inherent risks to the animal. And even Giordano, in his main line of research, is pursuing so-called “non-invasive” methods to track jaguar — finding jaguar scat and testing it to determine which individual cat it came from.

Jaguar may have experienced ‘capture myopathy’

Necropsy by zoo inconclusive, two outside vets say
By Tim Steller
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 03.29.2009
When Macho B’s decline became apparent, some researchers began to wonder whether the country’s only known wild jaguar had something called “capture myopathy.”
The sometimes-fatal disorder can occur, as the name implies, when animals are captured. The combination of stress, fear and exertion damages muscle tissue and can harm organs.
“Department personnel suspected capture myopathy/renal failure,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Jeff Humphrey wrote in a briefing document prepared for the service’s regional director and obtained by the Star through a public-records request.
But the sort of necropsy performed by veterinarians at the Phoenix Zoo did not provide enough information to determine whether he had the disorder, two outside veterinarians said.
Some elements of Macho B’s case suggest capture myopathy may have occurred. The necropsy report indicated some muscles had atrophied, which can be a sign of myopathy.
Also, Macho B’s paw that was caught in the snare was quite swollen, and if that prevented the jaguar from going after food or water, it would be considered a form of capture myopathy.
In a statement released on Friday, Game and Fish noted that a written account of the Feb. 18 capture said the jaguar “didn’t limp as he left.”
The author of that account, Game and Fish wildlife technician and biologist Thorry Smith, said snared cougars seldom move more than a fraction of a mile for a day or more on swollen, snared feet. But Macho B traveled three miles in the first three hours of his capture.
He slowed after that, however — particularly in his last few days in the wild. He was recaptured shortly after noon on March 2 only five miles from the original capture site and euthanized late that afternoon. Still, satellite tracking data indicate that the jaguar was close to water throughout his final 12 days and made frequent visits to water sources, Game and Fish’s statement said.
At a press briefing on March 6, a Phoenix Zoo veterinarian said capture myopathy wasn’t a factor in the illness that led the zoo to euthanize Macho B.
“Capture myopathy in the zoo world is a daily event, especially in hoof stock like antelopes and some of these fragile little guys. It does not cause renal failure. This cat had renal failure. Capture myopathy is an acute syndrome, a deadly syndrome. That was not the case here,” said Dean Rice, the zoo’s executive vice president and head veterinarian.
It’s true that capture myopathy is not as common among predators such as jaguars, as prey species, said David Jessup, senior wildlife veterinarian for California Fish and Game.
“Mountain lions and bobcats who are caught in snares most of the time will struggle for a few minutes, then will hunker down and wait,” Jessup said. “It’s very uncommon for them to panic for a prolonged period of time.”
But myopathy could come into play if a captured cat struggled for long in the snare, Jessup said.
When Arizona Game and Fish employees arrived at the site of Macho B’s capture Feb. 18, the cat was in a “quiet state,” wildlife technician Thorry Smith reported.
But that was probably not the case throughout his capture, which Game and Fish estimates lasted between three and 14 hours. The tree where Macho B was trapped was covered with dozens of deep scratches last week, up to a height of about seven feet. Roots within about eight feet of the tree also showed deep scratches.
But even those scratches are not enough evidence to show that the jaguar’s struggle could have caused myopathy, leading to his death, Jessup said in an e-mail. And the fact that the broader site did not appear “torn up” suggests the jaguar did not make much of a struggle.
Star reporter Tony Davis contributed to this report.

The Arizona Daily Star

Published: 03.29.2009

What the UA lab found in Macho B’s tissues

What the University of Arizona Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory found in Macho B’s tissues:

• Kidneys: No significant kidney disease, but some tissue samples suggested dehydration and pre-renal azotemia, a disease in which nitrogen-based wastes build up inside kidneys because blood doesn’t flow through them.

• Heart: Some of the heart muscle had died, and some muscle cells were dying or preparing to die in the ventricle, the section of the heart that pumps blood to the body, possibly due to stress.

• Lung: An area of hemorrhaging at the tip of one lobe, but otherwise unremarkable.

• Duodenum: A loss of lining that could have developed into an ulcer, probably related to stress.

• Large intestine: A cross section of a tapeworm, a parasite, in the intestine’s central area where food passes through.

• Small intestine: Basically in good shape.

• Adrenal glands, liver, spleen, pancreas, gall bladder, stomach, urinary bladder, trachea and esophagus: All in good shape or otherwise unremarkable.

What the Phoenix Zoo necropsy found:

• General appearance: Good overall condition for a geriatric wildcat with adequate intra abdominal fat present.

• Skin: Multiple small cuts and abrasions on the legs and trunk. Severe subcutaneous emphysema — in which air seeps into the skin and tissue — on the left hind leg from hip to the ankle area.

• Lungs: Areas of significant hemorrhaging at the edge of the right lung lobe.

• Heart: Small spots of hemorrhaging on the heart surface, overlying coronary vessels.

• Mouth: Upper left canine tooth fractured into multiple pieces.

• Stomach: Areas of mild hemorrhaging, ulceration in the body, no food present.

• Small intestine: Tapeworms present.

• Kidneys: Pale and firm.

• Endocrine system: Adrenals appeared mildly enlarged.

• Muscular system: The subcutaneous emphysema in left hind leg was dissecting through muscle bellies, and there was moderate muscle atrophy in both hind limbs.

• Liver: Enlarged and extending into the abdomen, otherwise normal in texture and appearance.

• All other organs were either not looked at because it wasn’t a full necropsy or had no major problems.


4/1/09 AZGF press release:

Arizona Game and Fish director orders formal investigation into capture of jaguar

Posted in: News Media
Mar 31, 2009

The Arizona Game and Fish Department received new information today concerning the events surrounding the Feb. 18 initial capture of the jaguar known as Macho B.
As a result, Larry Voyles, the director of the department, has ordered a full formal investigation to determine the validity of the new information.
“This agency is committed to a thorough review of all facts and circumstances related to the original capture,” said Voyles. “The department’s investigative protocol requires careful protection of relevant information pending an outcome, but once the process concludes, we will disclose information to the extent allowable by law.” 
The department has informed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the latest information.
“The department has briefed me on the information it received today, and we fully support the department’s decision to investigate this matter,” said Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s southwest region. 


2 Responses to “New Macho B controversy”

  1. nano Says:

    I agree with you, swjags. Wait until all of the information’s in. One thing I do believe: veterinarians do their best to help animals, and make the best decision(s) that they can, at the time. If you doubt that, try looking at it this way: anyone who’s been kicked, gouged, bitten, pooped or peed on, bled on, or used as traction by a large or largish animal would most likely agree that you don’t work with potentially dangerous animals unless you like them–it’s more hazardous to be a Vet than an MD (some MD’s might disagree with that assessment!). Maybe the snare and the radiocollaring didn’t help Macho B, but then, nobody would have known his whereabouts had he not been captured and collared, and we don’t have a crystal ball to have predicted what would have happened to him. The best outcome of all this publicity, as far as I can tell, would be for a collective agreement among gov’t and wildlife groups to maintain an open area at the border, where the mountains are. Wildlife would be (hopefully) able to cross, and it’d be far enough from border towns and a fairly rugged area so as to discourage human intervention from either direction.

  2. swjags Says:

    Thanks for your comment, nano. I agree that the veterinarians on this case did their best and to suggest otherwise (that there was a conspiracy or gross incompetence of some sort) is to call into question the integrity of professionals without all the facts. So let’s wait for the final report and if someone did a crummy job, let’s admit it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
    I also agree that there are more important issues such as the border fence, habitat, etc, etc. I encourage you to keep supporting wild jaguars,

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