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Arizona Capitol Times, July 26, 2010

Group initiates lawsuit against feds over jaguar permit
By Jeremy Duda

Macho B is gone, but his spirit may live on in a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Silver City, N.M.-based Center for Biological Diversity on July 26 took its first steps toward a lawsuit against the federal agency for issuing a permit to the Arizona Game & Fish Department that it said could lead to the incidental capture and death of other wild jaguars.

Michael Robinson, an advocate with Center for Biological Diversity, said the group is trying to avoid a repeat of the 2009 capture and death of Macho B, the last wild jaguar known to exist in the United States.

Robinson said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to allow Arizona authorities to capture jaguars and use large snares and traps in their habitat could cause the death of another endangered jaguar. No wild jaguars are known to exist in the U.S., but Robinson said it would irresponsible to assume that none are left.

In the notice of intent the group sent to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the Center for Biological Diversity alleged that the permit issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service violated the federal Endangered Species Act because it was issued before state authorities established a conservation plan for endangered jaguars.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service appears to have learned nothing from the killing of the last known jaguar in the United States,” Robinson said. “Arizona Game and Fish should not be allowed to risk capturing another jaguar until there’s a clear plan for ensuring the health and conservation of these extremely rare cats.”

Robinson said the Center for Biological Diversity agreed to dismiss another pending lawsuit challenging the Arizona Game & Fish Department’s ability to use traps and snares that could capture jaguars without a federal permit. Robinson said that lawsuit is moot because the department now has federal permission to use traps that could lead to a “take” of an endangered jaguar.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in June issued a permit that allowed the Arizona Game and Fish Department to capture jaguars for tracking and research purposes. In a press release on the dismissal of the previous lawsuit, the Game and Fish Department said it had always been authorized to capture endangered jaguars under an old permit, and the permit that was issued in June was simply a reauthorization that clarified its ability to capture the animals.

Despite the federal permit, the Game and Fish Department said it is operating under a self-imposed moratorium on any activities that could capture or harm jaguars. The moratorium will continue until a federal investigation into Macho B’s death is concluded.

“It has been Game and Fish’s position all along, however, that it operated at all times under a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that authorized the ‘take’ of threatened and endangered species, including jaguars, for purposes consistent with wildlife conservation objectives,” the Game and Fish Department said in a press release.

Macho B was captured in February 2009 while the Game and Fish Department was trapping mountain lions and black bears in the Coronado National Forest, according to the report. Department officials put a GPS tracking collar on the jaguar. Several days later, the GPS collar indicated that Macho B wasn’t moving, leading the department to believe he might be in poor health.

Department officials found the animal and transported him to the Phoenix Zoo, where tests determined that he was suffering from fatal and irreversible kidney failure. As a result, Macho B was euthanized.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton