A crucial turning point for this endangered species is coming up.
In Teddy Roosevelt’s day jaguars roamed from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to New Mexico’s Rio Grande and across much of southern Texas. Over the past two centuries, jaguars have been eliminated from more than half of their range, which spans the U.S. Southwest and Central and South America.
Some male jaguars like those that have been named El Jefe and Macho B have found their way to the U.S. from Mexico. Because El Jefe and Macho B lived for years in the U.S. we know there is plenty of food to sustain these jaguars, including favorites white-tailed deer and javelina, a pig-like animal. Two more jaguars confirmed to be roaming in southern Arizona, north of the U.S. – Mexico border, in 2016.
Recent jaguar sightings have given new hope and added a sense of renewed urgency to the jaguar recovery effort in the United States. Ever since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) granted U.S. jaguars full protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1997, conservationists have been waiting for the agency to develop a recovery plan for endangered jaguars.
Finally, last December, FWS released the long-awaited draft plan.
FWS’ Draft Plan Falls Short for America’s Elusive Big Cat
FWS’ draft plan rightly recognizes how important it is to protect Mexican jaguars. If these jaguars are lost, no more will find their way to the U.S. The U.S. must partner with Mexican organizations and help provide necessary resources.
But FWS’ plan fails in two serious ways.
Suitable Jaguar Habitat
For U.S. jaguars, FWS’ draft plan only considered a small bit of habitat south of Interstate 10 (I-10). A model commissioned by FWS predicted that this area could support between two to four female jaguars at most. Meanwhile, scientist Tony Povilitis calculated that adding potential habitat north of I-10 in the Mogollon Rim area of Arizona and New Mexico could raise the number to at least 250 jaguars of both sexes.
Migrating Males Need Mates
FWS’ draft plan also fails to consider translocation – moving jaguars to new U.S. habitat. While some male jaguars have successfully made the trek from south of the border, female jaguars are by nature less likely to travel across the rocky borderlands. And without females, no cubs will be born again in the U.S. Introducing females could make establishing U.S. jaguar populations a reality.
It’s unclear why FWS is reluctant to use this strategy for jaguars. The agency has translocated other imperiled Southwestern animals like the Mexican gray wolf and Sonoran pronghorn to recover them. Why not jaguars?
Another Hurdle for Jaguars: The Border Wall
More than 600 miles of barriers already exist along the U.S.-Mexico border, which have blocked off many of the pathways (or corridors) that jaguars and other wildlife could use to migrate between the two countries.
Any expansion of these barriers could close off all jaguar corridors across the border, ensuring that no more jaguars reach the U.S. on their own. Defenders, our conservation partners and other groups are working hard to ensure that the border remains open to jaguars and other wildlife.
On March 21, Defenders will release a new report on U.S. jaguars that provides more details on the benefits and challenges surrounding U.S. jaguar recovery. The report, Bringing El Tigre Home, will also include our recommendations to strengthen FWS’ U.S. jaguar recovery efforts, which include asking FWS to evaluate strategies for female jaguar translocation and to include all suitable habitat in the jaguar recovery area.
How You Can Help
FWS’ draft recovery plan is currently in review and is open for public comment until Monday, March 20. Click here to tell FWS that you want the agency to be champions for jaguars in the U.S. Tell the agency that it should plan for a population north of I-10 and seriously consider translocating jaguars to the U.S.
Let’s bring the jaguar back home!
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