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For Immediate Release, January 6, 2010

Contact:  Michael Robinson, (575) 534-0360

With Looming Court Deadline, Interior Secretary Salazar Asked to Take Action to Recover American Jaguar

TUCSON, Ariz.—  Thirty-seven conservation organizations from throughout the United States asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today to designate critical habitat and develop a recovery plan for endangered jaguars in the United States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has for years refused to take either action, but in response to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the court has ordered the secretary to reconsider this stance by January 8.

“With protection for its habitat and a science-based plan, the jaguar could once again roam the American Southwest,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Under the Bush administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service maintained that the jaguar’s extensive range in Mexico and Central and South America made development of a recovery plan impractical, and that U.S. habitats are marginal for jaguars. A federal judge in Tucson, however, found that these positions were not supported by the science and ordered the agency to reconsider.

“Secretary Salazar has an opportunity to chart a new course for jaguar recovery in the United States,” said Robinson. “All he has to do is listen to the science.”

According to a 1997 rule by the Fish and Wildlife Service listing jaguars as endangered, jaguars once had an extensive U.S. range, including parts of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. The great cats were eliminated by a combination of habitat loss and human persecution. In recent years, jaguars have crossed the border into Arizona from Mexico.

“Interior Secretary Salazar has the opportunity and the legal responsibility to restore jaguars to U.S. forests, deserts, and grasslands that the big spotted cats have roamed since time immemorial,” said Robinson. “We hope Secretary Salazar understands the importance of protecting the jaguar’s habitat and of developing a scientific road map for the jaguar’s recovery.”

The last known wild jaguar in the United States, a male called Macho B, was killed in 2009 after a bungled trapping effort by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Jaguars need critical habitat and the scientific oversight of a recovery team that develops a plan. A serious threat to jaguars currently is construction of the border wall, which has the potential to cut off further migration of jaguars from Mexico.   
The federal government is not allowed to destroy or harm critical habitat either directly or through issuing development permits. Not surprisingly, species with critical habitat designated for them have been found to be twice as likely to be making progress toward recovery than those without, such as the jaguar.

Jaguars are the third-largest feline in the world and the largest in North America. Their coat is typically a striking golden-orange marked by black rosettes or incomplete circles. Jaguars are known to prey on deer and peccaries (also known as javelina), a boar-like animal in the Southwest, as well as on other animals such as bighorn sheep.

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