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Find out more from the Center for Biological Diversity:
Albuquerque Journal, February 4, 2010

The Death of Macho B
By Leslie Linthicum

Just about a year ago, one of the most photographed and chronicled wild big cats in the United States - a jaguar that roamed the Southwest - stepped into a metal trap a few miles north of the Mexican border in Arizona.

Macho B, as the jaguar was called, was snared, tranquilized, fixed with a radio collar and released. Twelve days later, when he was not moving and it was obvious something was wrong, he was captured again, examined and put to the death. He was somewhere between 16 and 20 years old.

The death of one old jaguar affected a lot of people in surprising ways.

Macho B was eulogized like a celebrity, and I guess he was one. People regularly report seeing jaguars in the Southwest - it happens every few years in New Mexico, although most of those reports are not confirmed - but Macho B had been spotted frequently and photographed as well. He was often called the last known jaguar living in the wild in the United States.

Jaguars are the largest cats in the Western Hemisphere, and there is something alluring about the prospect of having a 6-foot-long, 200-pound predator with jaws that can kill a deer in one snap walking unseen in the world in which we live.

I read everything I could about Macho B after he died and felt sad in a way that seemed out of proportion with the event, up until I realized
what it meant - the end of an era in the Wild West and another symptom of a world that is out of balance.

But in the wake of the big cat's death, it seems that Macho B's legacy might be more positive than that.

Just last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was ordered by a federal court to develop a recovery plan for wild jaguars in the United
States and to designate a "critical habitat" area for the cat's well-being. It was the reversal of a long-standing refusal by the Bush administration to take efforts to protect the jaguar.

And just two weeks ago, the federal agency tasked with investigating complaints of government wrongdoing issued a stinging report about Macho B's trapping, collaring and ultimate death at the hands of Arizona game managers.

The Office of the Inspector General, urged on by two members of Congress, reviewed hundreds of e-mails and documents, along with 38 interviews conducted by U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents in a separate criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding Macho B's death.

Its conclusion came in a redacted report that was light on details but clear in its conclusion: The capture of Macho B by the Arizona Game and Fish Department was intentional. There was evidence linking a subcontractor and possibly an employee to "criminal wrongdoing in the capture of Macho B."

Arizona Game and Fish disputes the Inspector General's conclusion and maintains no one associated with the department was directed to capture the jaguar.

The public story of the cat's death a year ago had been one of an unavoidable tragedy: unintentionally snared in a trap set by government
wildlife managers for mountain lions and bears, the jaguar had been found to have failing kidneys and was put out of his misery.

The Inspector General's report outlines a tragedy of a different sort. It concludes that the team trapping in the Coronado National Forest
knew Macho B was nearby and had none of the permits required to trap an animal with endangered species protection.

According to the report, three federal agents were assigned to the criminal case and it is currently being reviewed by an assistant U.S.
attorney in Arizona. Arizona Game and Fish disputes it did not have proper permits and says it is cooperating fully with the federal investigation.

Once he was trapped, there is also the question of whether Macho B needed to die. He was caught in the foot trap on Feb. 18 and remained there overnight until he was shot with a tranquilizer dart, affixed with a radio collar and released. In the trapping, the report said, he had broken off a canine tooth down to the root.

He was captured again, taken to the Phoenix Zoo and examined. Veterinarians there attributed the cat's decline to kidney failure and the
tooth injury. They decided he could not be saved and euthanized him. One of the veterinarians disagreed with the diagnosis, saying the cat did not suffer from significant kidney disease.

What's the difference if a jaguar that roamed around southern Arizona and New Mexico and northern Mexico dies a few years before his time? Does it even matter if he's truly the last one here?

It's more than a sentimental concern. Jaguars used to walk all over New Mexico and up into Colorado. There's evidence they were in northern New Mexico as recently as the 1930s. A confirmed sighting in southern New Mexico came as recently as four years ago.

Like the stealthy mountain lions that walk all around us, it is likely jaguars have watched humans much more often than humans have spied them.

Michael Robinson, who lives in the Gila Mountains and is a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, has led the
charge to protect the jaguar as well as to reintroduce the Mexican gray wolf in New Mexico. Jaguars evolved in North America and at one time stretched from California to the Carolinas.

"To think that the animal was finally reduced to Macho B here and then he's gone is frankly tragic," Robinson says. "Having the full suite of species, including jaguars, is a sign to our society that we have left some places intact."

It's not too far of a stretch to compare the wolf's situation to that of the jaguar. The difference between the wolf and the jaguar is that
the jaguar has not been hunted away - yet. It doesn't need to be reintroduced, only protected by wildlife managers so the migration between Mexico and the American Southwest can continue .

And then? Let's leave them alone. That's a lesson we should have learned from Macho B.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton