Good news! An apparently healthy, full-grown jaguar was spotted in southeast Arizona just a few days ago. The animal has been photographed and its existence confirmed. This is the first sighting of a free-living jaguar in the United States since 2009, and it raises hopes that a sustainable population might eventually become established.
Unfortunately, it’s a male: In the world of population biology, it’s really the females that matter (perhaps in ours, too). The future of jaguars in the region therefore remains dim, or, at best, uncertain, although the presence of an evidently well-fed adult suggests that the habitat might be able to support a full-fledged breeding population. Let’s hope.
Southeast Arizona boasts an unusual confluence of habitats, enabling this small region to be home to an extraordinary array of critters, many of them (coatis, trogons, becards, ocelots and jaguarundis) found nowhere else in the U.S. and with increasing rarity in Mexico as well. If you’re interested, the American Museum of Natural History maintains a field station outside Portal, Arizona; although its primary mission is research and teaching, the station offers limited accomodation (clean, cheap rooms plus meals) for eco-oriented tourists. The verified presence of a jaguar is yet another positive notch on this region’s biodiversity belt. Except …
Well, there is a possible downside interpretation. Not long ago, my wife was surprised and delighted to see a cougar while riding her horse on our own 10-acre property at the suburban-wildland interface outside of Seattle. Our enthusiasm and pleasure at the news was tempered, however, by awareness that whereas a large wild cat nearby might indeed indicate an expanding population, it might simply reflect the fact that with increasing “development” and reduction in suitable habitat, the exiguous free-living survivors are being forced into terrain they wouldn’t otherwise choose.
So, it is at least possible that the recently spotted large spotted cat in Arizona was there because things have become increasingly intolerable in Mexico—and not just to people suffering drug violence.
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