Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For Immediate Release -- December 15, 2004
Contact:  Michael Robinson, 505-534-0360
More Information: Jaguar Web Page


The Center for Biological Diversity today filed formal 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, Interior Secretary Gale Norton and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services for actions taken by the latter agency that are likely to result in the "take" of endangered jaguars (panthera onca) in the United States.

"Take" under the Endangered Species Act means "harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing trapping, capturing, collecting, or attempting to engage in any such conduct."

The notice letter points to failures of USDA's Orwellianly-named Wildlife Services agency to abide by Fish and Wildlife Service requirements in the former agency's wildlife poisoning, trapping and neck-snaring program, that Wildlife Services map out occupied habitat of jaguars and limit its killing techniques in these areas.

Jaguars are the largest cat in the western hemisphere and the third largest feline in the world.  Commonly thought of as a spotted cat, their golden coat is actually marked by semi-circular black rosettes.  Some jaguars display a melanistic phase, and are completely black.

Jaguars are native to the southern tier of states in the U.S. from southern California through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana.

"The American jaguar has been wiped out in most of its range already," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity in Pinos Altos, New Mexico.  "It's time to stop the trapping and poisoning and give the few jaguars roaming in the U.S. today a break."

Wildlife-killing agency fails to identify where jaguars are to receive limited protections.
Wildlife Services never produced the maps required in a Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Opinion, according to a letter from WS to the Center in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.  But the WS continues to widely utilize techniques likely to result in the death of a jaguar, even in areas where such techniques are banned.

Fish and Wildlife Service is culpable for not enforcing the terms of its 6/22/1999 Biological Opinion, a document that authorized the WS to "accidentally" kill one jaguar as long as it institutes safeguards to minimize the chances of such a death, or of more than one such killing. 

So far, Wildlife Services has not made public any jaguars killed by the agency since the jaguar was listed as an endangered species on 7/22/1997.  Wildlife Services and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were originally a single agency, until 1985 when they split apart, that played a significant role in exterminating the jaguar from the United States through trapping, poisoning and hound-hunting between 1915 and passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973.  However, jaguars more recently may have been killed by poison and not located, or may have been hurt or killed and not reported by the agency.

The Biological Opinion notes that "take of jaguars will be difficult to detect" because of the animal's wide-ranging and secretive roaming "in habitat that makes detection difficult," and because of "the nature of the predator control activities" taking place in remote regions.

Occupied habitat, the area where killing techniques are limited, must be mapped out because of the ambiguity of their definition.  The Biological Opinion defines occupied habitat as all lands excluding "urban areas and agricultural/grassland habitats which are further than three miles from the base of major mountain ranges and one mile from major riparian corridors." 

This definition applies in Arizona within Cochise and Santa Cruz Counties, Pima County east of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Pinal County east of State Highway 77 and south of the Gila River, and Graham and Greenlee Counties south of the Gila River.  In New Mexico, occupied habitat has the same definition but only applies within Hidalgo County. 

The Biological Opinion banned steel leghold traps larger than a #3 Victor, wire neck snares and M-44 sodium-cyanide poison devices within occupied habitat.  But without producing maps, the agency continues to use these methods and cannot identify where they are banned.

The Center's letter points out:  "Without these maps, occupied habitat cannot be ascertained because different individuals may assume different locales for the 'base of major mountain ranges,' and may even differ on what constitutes a 'major' mountain range or riparian area."

Evidence indicates jaguars may roam Gila.
Today's notice letter also warned that the region in which occupied habitat is identified must be expanded because of new information indicating that jaguars roam the Gila National Forest and adjoining lands in New Mexico and Arizona.

The interagency Jaguar Conservation Team has documented three “Class II” jaguar sightings in and near the Gila National Forest in Grant, Catron and Sierra Counties during the 1990s.  Class II records, as defined by the Jaguar Conservation Team, are observations made by a reliable observer and/or accompanied by physical evidence.

Two and possibly three jaguars have been photographed by motion-operated cameras in Arizona recently.  One of the animals has been determined, based on the unique pattern of its rosettes, to be the same one as was caught on camera in the same region three years previously.  But there are no cameras set out to document jaguar occurrences in the Gila National Forest area.

The Center and nine other groups sent a certified letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service on 10/5/2004 warning of these violations of the Endangered Species Act and requesting immediate action to prevent accidental killings of jaguars.  But the groups have not yet received a response from FWS.

Jaguars suffered from decades of agency malfeasance and neglect that continues today.
The jaguar was originally listed as an endangered species in 1972 under the predecessor law to the Endangered Species Act.  However, this law contained numerous loopholes, and while the species was ostensibly protected the Fish and Wildlife Service continued to issue permits to safari companies to import jaguar pelts from Central and South America. 

As a result of a myriad of similar abuses involving many different animals, President Richard M. Nixon proposed to Congress a stronger law, and on December 28, 1973 he signed the modern Endangered Species Act into law.  But the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to place the jaguar on the new list of endangered species in the United States.  In 1974, it stated this failure was a result of an "oversight," and pledged to expeditiously list the jaguar as endangered.

The agency failed to do so, and jaguars continued to be killed in the United States.  So in 1994 biologist Anthony Povilitis, Ph.D., presented a formal petition to list the jaguar as endangered.  Fish and Wildlife Service refused to evaluate the information in the petition until the Center for Biological Diversity won a court decision requiring the agency to do so.  As a result, the jaguar was listed as endangered in 1997.

Since then the Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to convene a recovery plan and designate critical habitat for the jaguar.  On September 24, 2004, the Center and Defenders of Wildlife settled a suit with the federal agency in which it agreed to re-evaluate its opposition to critical habitat and issue a new decision by July 3, 2006.

"It's a shame this beautiful animal only gets protection when a judge orders the government to follow the law," commented Robinson.  "We've gotten no response to our previous letter, but our current notice still gives the agencies two months to limit the taxpayer-funded trapping and cease entirely the poisoning and snaring in areas where jaguars roam."


more press releases. . .

Go back