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Scientist's Call for Jaguars to Be Returned to the USA

Posted By : The Animal Facts Editorial Team

Date: May 13, 2021 4:56 pm

Jaguar release US WCS

A close-up view of a captive jaguar

Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS

A study published May 11,2021 in the journal Conservation Science and Practice calls for the release of the jaguar back to the United States. Its authors also lay out a prospective framework for this effort.

Jaguars persisted in the American south-west until the mid 20th century when they were hunted to extinction. Prior to this extinction they had survived in Arizona and New Mexico for hundreds of years.

Jaguar release US WCS

A camera trap image of one of the last wild jaguars in the USA taken in southern Arizona

Photo Credit: USFWS FA

Authors who contributed to this study come from the Wildlife Conservation Society, Center for Landscape Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife, Wildlands Network, Pace University, Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro, Life Net Nature, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The study follows on from another released in March which described an area in Arizona and New Mexico which covers 2 million acres (82,000 square kilometers) and could comfortably accommodate 90-150 jaguars.

The 2018 US Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Plan for the jaguar did not consider this area restricting its assessment to only areas south of Interstate Highway 10 (an artificial boundary considering historic jaguar records north of that). This led to a conclusion that only 6 jaguars could survive in the US.

A range of factors such as habitat destruction, transportation infrastructure, natural constrictions in the landscape, and the border mean it is unlikely the jaguar would naturally re-establish over the next 100 years.

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Due to it being unlikely that the jaguar will re-establish of its own accord they should instead be reintroduced by humans. While these efforts would increase populations of the jaguar it would also bring a benefit to humans.

“The jaguar lived in these mountains long before Americans did,” said Eric Sanderson, WCS Senior Conservation Ecologist and lead author of the study. “If done collaboratively, reintroduction could enhance the economy of this region and the ecology of this incredible part of jaguar range.” 

Scientists see this area as suitable for reintroduction as most of it is managed for the public good with over 68% of the area managed by the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service. It has suitable habitat and is also populated by potential prey.

Jaguars were removed from this area by humans due to ongoing conflict and it is thought that we now have ample tools to live alongside these animals.

Jaguar release US WCS
Jaguar release US WCS

Left: A close-up view of a captive jaguar

Right: A news article from the Corpus Christie Times shows the last jaguar to live in Texas

Photo Credit: Left: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS Right: Corpus Christie Times

“This represents a turning point for this iconic wild cat, identifying a path forward for restoration of the jaguar to its historic range in the United States,” said Sharon Wilcox Ph.D., Texas Representative for Defenders of Wildlife. "It should serve as the starting point for a renewed conversation among stakeholders."

“The Southwest’s native wildlife evolved with jaguars,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “They have a storied and vital place in our canyons and forests, so we should plan an intelligent and humane reintroduction program."

Wildlands Network Mexico and Borderlands Program Director, Juan Carlos Bravo added: “Restoring jaguars to the northernmost portions of their historic range is an issue of importance for both the U.S: and Mexico, our paper provides an initial step for both countries to draft together a roadmap of what that major rewilding effort may look like.”

Jaguar release US WCS

A camera trap image of one of the last wild jaguars in the USA taken in southern Arizona

Photo Credit: USFWS FA

Learn more about Jaguars here – Jaguar Fact File | The Animal Facts

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