Scientists working for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Arizona have captured an image of a jaguar, a rare visitor to the United States. The picture, taken by a camera trap placed near the U.S.-Mexican border, is the first image of this largest of New World felines in the U.S. since August, 1996.
"This photo is a significant development for the conservation of jaguars in the northern part of their range," said Howard Quigley, director for WCS's Global Carnivore Program. "The individual in the photo is probably dispersing from the population south of the border. We're initiating some work in the Sonora region of Mexico to see if this population will persist and perhaps repopulate parts of the southwestern United States."
Although never plentiful in the southwestern United States, jaguars did inhabit the area before being largely eliminated as a result of human persecution. Fewer than 20 sightings of jaguars have been confirmed since the mid-1800s. Further, jaguars have lost more than half of their former habitat, a sprawling range stretching from southern Arizona to northern Argentina, during the past century, according to a recent published paper in Conservation Biology. The WCS-led study identifies 51 key jaguar areas in 30 different ecological types, the result of a prioritizing exercise using GIS software and data from across the jaguar's entire range. WCS has begun to implement this range-wide program, funded by the car company, Jaguar North America, over a five-year period. The program has brought together experts from throughout Latin America and North America to coordinate on-the-ground efforts to save jaguars.
Working in tandem with WCS researchers, scientists from the Arizona Game and Fish Department initiated the monitoring project in response to the jaguar photo from 1996. Since that time, the jaguar has been listed in the U.S. as an endangered species; this listing does not entail a "critical habitat" designation, since habitat in the U.S. is not necessary for the jaguar's survival.
"The WCS Jaguar Conservation Program is committed to the long-term conservation of jaguars in this borderland area. We intend to work with all stakeholders in America and Mexico to make sure that this wonderful representation of our natural heritage persists," Quigley said.