Revered as deities amongst the Mayan and Aztec peoples, jaguars inspire through their grace and power. These agile hunters once roamed from South America through the southern and central United States, but lost habitat and were killed off in the east in the 1700s. They were reduced through Spanish bounties and fur hunting in the southwestern United States, and the last animals were systematically hunted down by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the 20th century, only to reappear sporadically due to migration from Mexico.
After the jaguar was listed as endangered in the United States in 1997 in response to a Center campaign, we three times sued the Fish and Wildlife Service to obtain a recovery plan and critical habitat designation. Finally, in early 2010, the Service announced it would grant the jaguar protected habitat in the United States as well as develop a recovery plan. The Center proposed the designation of more than 50 million acres of jaguar critical habitat in the Southwest; advocated for protection from government traps, snares and poisons; and opposed walling off the U.S.-Mexico border — which the Service said wouldn’t hurt the species — to ensure that jaguars will always have access to the full extent of their range.
In a big victory for this magnificent cat, in August 2012 the Fish and Wildlife Service formally proposed to protect 838,232 acres — an area larger than the state of Rhode Island — as critical habitat for endangered jaguars in southern Arizona and New Mexico. Unfotunately, the Service's recovery outline — an outline for the jaguar's recovery plan, released in fall 2012, excluded two key areas of jaguar habitat. We submitted comments in opposition, as well as comments declaring the animal's need for millions more acres of critical habitat.
And finally, in summer 2013, an additional 19,905 acres of protected habitat was proposed for jaguars in southern Arizona and New Mexico, including areas in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains, where a lone jaguar had been caught on camera several times in the past nine months.
In March 2009, the Arizona Game and Fish Department euthanized the last then-known U.S. jaguar — Macho B — after capturing and fitting him with a radio collar. The Center called for an independent medical investigation, which revealed that the jaguar’s death was at least in part due to agency mismanagement. We also called on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement to do an independent investigation, which it did. In September, we filed suit against Arizona Game and Fish to prevent the killing of any more jaguars, and in January 2010, the Interior Department’s inspector general released a report concluding that Macho B’s capture had been intentional — and that Game and Fish had no permit to capture jaguars, either intentionally or incidentally. In April 2010, we filed a notice of intent to sue the predator-control branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture over its use of traps, snares and poisons that risk injuring or killing both jaguars and ocelots in the Southwest; two months later, we filed a notice over the Fish and Wildlife Service’s permit authorizing Arizona Game and Fish to “take” jaguars with traps and snares. Our actions became even more critical when, in 2011, a brand-new, 200-pound male jaguar was spotted roaming in the state.
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