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The Arizona Republic, March 3, 2009

Ailing collared jaguar put down
By Heather Hoch

Jaguars are protected as an endangered species, but on Monday night one of the rare felines was euthanized after being captured, released and recaptured by state authorities.

The jaguar, about 16 years old, was put down because of failing kidneys.

A necropsy, the term for an animal autopsy, will be completed at the Phoenix Zoo and could offer more information as soon as this week, according to Bill Van Pelt, an endangered-species specialist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Blood work results as early as today could offer insight into when the animal's kidneys started to malfunction. Officials say that kidney failure is a common ailment in older cats.

The jaguar gained attention when it was found Feb. 18, caught in a snare the Game and Fish Department had set to catch mountain lions and black bears as part of research.

The jaguar was collared with a tracking device and released near Tucson, offering much hope to researchers about the insight they might gain into the feeding and movement habits of the rare species of cat.

But officials became worried when the jaguar stopped moving as much, had an abnormal gait and lost weight.

A team of Game and Fish biologists and a wildlife veterinarian began looking for the jaguar on Sunday. They found him shortly before noon Monday and transported him to the zoo, where he was put down at 5:15 p.m.

The loss of the jaguar hits on an emotional and scientific level.

"The secrets we were hoping to unveil are still going to be secrets," Van Pelt said.

Since 1971, only six jaguars have been documented in the United States.

This particular jaguar was the only one spotted in the U.S. in more than a decade.

Trail cameras first snapped photos of the jaguar in 1996 when the cat appeared to be about 2 to 3 years old. Pictures would capture him from time to time after that, and researchers named him Macho B.

When inadvertently captured last month, they recognized him by his spots.

"I've been with the department for 18 years and Macho B has been a part of my life for 13," Van Pelt said.

He said all sedatives given to Macho B had been tested on other big cats, and all were within prescribed limits.

Before releasing the jaguar last month, wildlife officials had called him a fine-looking animal - even at 16, which state officials said is older than any other known wild jaguar.

Macho B had weighed 118 pounds at that time. Two weeks later, he weighed 99.5 pounds.

"I'm saddened by the death," said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate with the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity.

He called the death a blow to the recovery of jaguars.

Robinson's group fought to get the jaguars on the list of endangered species in 1997 and is fighting in federal court for a recovery plan for the animals. Van Pelt said recovery efforts must largely focus south of the border, since he said 99 percent of the jaguar population is outside the U.S.

Historically, jaguar territory extended as far north as the Grand Canyon, Van Pelt said. They live primarily in Mexico and South and Central America.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton