Scotty Johnson, Senior Outreach Representative
Jaguars. Mention the word to people who know nothing about endangered wildlife? They imagine a tuxedoed Richard Branson, or James Bond speeding round a precipitous cliff. Tell these people you work on jaguars? They look at your hands, presumably to spot grease under your fingernails. The fun comes in telling them otherwise.
The spotted cat—a magnificent, elusive, elegant, highly endangered creature — once roamed the continental United States as far north as the Grand Canyon, even as recently as a fifty years ago. They return here from Mexico, where Defenders supports a jaguar preserve. They’re the only roaring cat in the Western hemisphere and the largest cat in the Americas — at least they used to be, until humans arrived, with guns. Then jaguars were driven from their ancestral homelands.
The good news? The big cat is back.
Last month, research cameras revealed the presence of a healthy male jaguar less than forty miles south of Tucson, Arizona. Wildlife lovers celebrate his arrival. Developers, however, who are busily eyeing his habitat for the copper beneath, are not so thrilled. Having an endangered species nearby could delay their already controversial project.
They should be concerned, and not just because of jaguars. The proposed mine — dubbed Rosemont — is an industrial-scale ecological nightmare. The brainchild of a Canadian mining company called Augusta the project would be a mile-wide, half-mile-deep open pit mine that will—if approved—dump hundreds of millions of tons of mine waste laced with mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxics on more than 3,000 acres of Arizona National Forest and ecologically important tributaries. It’s opposed by local citizens, county and federal officials, health experts—anyone with common sense.
Yet, sometimes common sense isn’t all that common—and neither are the species that used to roam this area. Eight federally listed endangered species dwell within the proposed mine area. Half of these—the jaguar, ocelot, Chiricahua Leopard Frog and Pima Pineapple cactus—are likely declining in status. This means that even though the Endangered Species Act protects them, they may still be slipping toward extinction.
What is happening south of Tucson is a scenario repeating throughout America: As habitats are fragmented, deforested, drilled, polluted, destroyed, altered by climate change and left uninhabitable, species suffer. Extinction ensues.
Extinction isn’t moral, ecologically smart, or democratic. Americans are overwhelmingly against extinction. A recent poll [PDF] showed that 84 percent of Americans across demographic and political lines support the Endangered Species Act — the principal law to stop extinction. We have an obligation to preserve for future generations the astonishing diversity of life our generation is privileged to witness. Scientifically, species, their habitats and the interactions between them maintain healthy ecosystems. They are the fabric that all life depends on, including us. And when that fabric is torn, we begin to lose some of our most basic necessities — clean air, water and medicines, to name a few.
South of Tucson, a magnificent jaguar has made his presence known. He is an example of what we stand to lose if we fail to halt the mass extermination of species currently unfolding—an extinction crisis so severe it compares to five previous extinction events found in the geological record—the last one seventy-five million years ago with the dinosaurs. Scientists call it the Sixth Great Extinction.
In Arizona, a fiery and influential coalition of diverse groups, including Defenders, has banded together to stop extinction by informing the public, the media and engaging decision makers, including members of Congress of what we have to lose if they refuse to act. Like that big cat, they stand up, and are making a difference.
This coalition and many like them across the nation serve as inspiration to us all. It’s time we stand up and make a difference for the generations to come. This jaguar’s entrance is symbolic, not just of the many diverse species, lands and waterways he inhabits, but of a spirit rekindled – the spirit of life through conservation, reemerging strong and resilient.
You can help kindle that spirit. You can be a part of protecting endangered species like the jaguar all across this nation. This year, against whatever odds, Defenders will continue to push against the flood of extinction creeping across America. Become one of Defenders’ Wildlife Advocates. Learn what you can do to make a difference, not just with your money, but with your heart and your time. Download this free Citizens Advocate handbook [PDF] and email me today to learn how you can get involved. Together, we are unstoppable. Together, we will beat extinction.