CONSERVATIONISTS SUE U.S. TO RECOVER JAGUARS
For Immediate Release: July 21, 2003
Non-profit organizations Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife today filed suit in federal court to ensure the return of North America’s largest cat, the jaguar, panthera onca.
Jaguars typically display a golden colored pelage with black rosettes that appear from afar as spots. In some jaguars, the entire pelt is black. The jaguar is highly adaptable and known to range widely and occupy a variety of different types of ecosystems, from tropical rainforests to grasslands, deserts, woodlands, and even high elevation mixed conifer forests of spruce and fir.
The litigation, targeting Interior Secretary Gale Norton and her Fish and Wildlife Service, seeks to jumpstart conservation actions through the timely creation of a recovery plan, six years after the jaguar was listed as an endangered species in the United States. The suit also cites the failure of the Fish and Wildlife Service to designate critical habitat for the jaguar.
A recovery plan is an overarching planning document that takes into account how an animal or plant became imperiled and what steps are necessary to recover that species. Without a recovery plan, conservation measures may be piecemeal and inadequate to the task.
Killing of jaguars by the federal government and private individuals as well as human encroachment into jaguar habitat resulted in its extirpation from the U.S..
Heightened conservation measures are crucial to allowing jaguars to reclaim their ancestral territory before new border fences, roads and sprawling rural developments cut off migratory routes and prevent jaguars from re-establishing themselves in New Mexico and Arizona.
" Within one human lifetime this crowning jewel of American wildlife heritage has been eliminated from our wilderness" said Scotty Johnson of Defenders of Wildlife, chair of the interagency Jaguar Conservation Team outreach committee.
He added: "The American jaguar has many supporters. Wildlife advocates, scientists and ranchers work on its behalf. The cat reminds us of what we have lost and gives us hope with it’s return. The Service can help with this. It’s time for the Bush administration to stop de-funding recovery plans and provide funds to Fish and Wildlife to save this majestic American icon."
Michael J. Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity pointed to the potential for jaguars to thrive in New Mexico and Arizona’s Gila and Blue range, the latter of which was the locale where the last known wild female jaguar in this country was killed in 1963.
We look forward to jaguars once again wandering the cottonwood and
alder shaded canyons of the Gila, San Francisco and Blue Rivers,” he
said, adding: “Linking habitat in the U.S. to habitat in Mexico
is the best strategy for ensuring that future generations will be able
to thrill to the sight of a big paw print in the wet sand.”
In 1987, a jaguar that had been reported as living in southern Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains for over a year was shot. In 1992, Chiricahuas resident Dr. Povilitis filed a scientific petition to again protect the species under the ESA, but the Fish and Wildlife Service did not act on that petition until the Center for Biological Diversity followed it up with litigation in 1996, leading to a listing the following year.
Populations of the jaguar in Mexico are now becoming fragmented and isolated, with each subpopulation successively succumbing to the pressures of habitat destruction and human persecution. This pattern mirrors the decline last century of the jaguar in the U.S..
However, there is hope: Conservationists are raising money to purchase land in Sonora, Mexico, approximately 120 miles south of Douglas, Arizona, that scientists say supports the northernmost extant jaguar population and the source of jaguars that are thought to roam in the U.S.. An estimated 75 - 100 of the big cats are thought to live in this region.
Jaguars sighted in the U.S in recent times are thought to be young
males searching out new territories. Since 1996, three different
jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico have been photographed near the border
In historic times the jaguar roamed throughout the southern tier of states, and in prehistoric times it occupied almost all of the contiguous United States: Panthera onca remains from ten thousand years ago have been unearthed in New England.
Writer Peter Matthiessen, in his classic book Wildlife in America (1987), described the species’ range as established as far north as the Red River in Arkansas, and noted a credible report from the mountains of North Carolina in 1737. Several early accounts also mentioned jaguars and “tigers” in Louisiana, including the killing of one in 1886.
According to the late Vernon Bailey, one of the top mammalogists
in the U.S. and chief field naturalist for the U.S. Bureau of Biological
to the Fish and Wildlife Service), jaguars were once common in southern and
eastern Texas but by the time of his writing in 1905 had become extremely
rare. Nevertheless, jaguars were still killed on the Great Plains of
as late as 1947 and 1948.
Arizona has the best documented population of jaguars, with jaguars killed or documented in the state during each decade of the 20th century. Among them, a female with kittens was killed near the Grand Canyon during the winter of 1907/1908. Kittens were also captured alive in 1906 in the Chiricahuas after their mother was shot.
In 1919, C. Hart Merriam, the eminent mammalogist who founded and
led the Biological Survey (and supervised Vernon Bailey), published
an analysis of
of jaguars from various locations in California, as far north as the Monterrey
Bay. The last known individual from California was killed near Palm Springs