Once revered as deities in Mayan and Aztec culture, jaguars possess immense grace and power. These agile hunters once lived throughout South and Central America and in the southern and central United States, but they lost habitat and were killed off to near extinction north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Since 2015 three wild jaguars have been observed roaming the southwestern United States, in southern Arizona. Thanks to work by the Center, all three — and any others that migrate north of Mexico or already exist there — are protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The Arizona Jaguars

One of the most significant events in recent U.S. jaguar history was when El Jefe (Spanish for “The Boss”), was filmed in an exclusive video captured by Conservation CATalyst and the Center. We released the footage of this large male jaguar wandering the Santa Rita Mountains just outside Tucson in early 2016, though photos of him had been released earlier — and in August 2022, remote cameras in central Sonora, Mexico, picked him up again.

Another jaguar seen in Arizona — a smaller, younger male, named “Yo'oko Nashuareo" by students at Hiaki High School on the Pascua Yaqui Reservation 90 miles away  — had his image caught on trail a camera in the Huachuca Mountains in December 2016. The third jaguar, named Sombra (Spanish for "shadow"), was photographed on a Bureau of Land Management trail camera in the Dos Cabezas Mountains, about 60 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. The Center released new footage of this jaguar on September 14, 2017.

These jaguars' presence is to be celebrated and honored — but the U.S. jaguar population will never reestablish if migration from the small population in northern Mexico is blocked by the wall being built along the U.S.-Mexico border. The border wall would also perpetuate human suffering, harm border communities and halt the cross-border movement of other imperiled wildlife such as ocelots and wolves.

Macho B

The last known wild U.S. jaguar before the three “new” jaguars appeared was called Macho B. He was tragically, wrongfully euthanized in March 2009 by the Arizona Game and Fish Department after being captured and fitted with a radio collar.

The Center immediately called for an independent medical investigation, which revealed that Macho B’s death was at least partly due to malfeasance. We sued 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 — although Game and Fish had no permit to capture jaguars. That year we also filed a notices of intent to sue the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services over its use of traps, snares and poisons threatening jaguars and ocelots, and over the Fish and Wildlife Service's granting Arizona Game and Fish a permit allowing the incidental killing or injuring of jaguars with traps and snares.

El Jefe and the Mining Threat

Since El Jefe was first spotted roaming southern Arizona's Sky Island mountain ranges in 2011, he has been photographed more than 100 times by trail cameras in the Santa Rita Mountains, less than 30 miles from Tucson. His time there highlights another threat to jaguars: a massive copper mine proposed by Hudbay Minerals. After fighting the Center in court for years, the company scrapped its original project, the Rosemont mine — but now it’s planning a mine called Copper World. This new, equally destructive open-pit copper mine for  that would likewise destroy thousands of acres of perfect jaguar habitat. The Center has been a leading member of the coalition against copper mining in this area since 2007.

Jaguars’ Journey Toward Protection

Jaguars were listed as endangered in the United States in 1997 in response to a Center campaign. After their listing, we three times sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to win a recovery plan and critical habitat designation, which the agency finally announced it would grant in 2010. The Center followed up by proposing the designation of more than 50 million acres of jaguar critical habitat in the Southwest. We also advocated for protection from government traps, snares and poisons, and opposed walling off the U.S.-Mexico border to defend jaguars’ access to the full extent of their range.

In March 2014 the Fish and Wildlife Service finalized the critical habitat designation. Although it was far smaller than the Center’s recommendation, at 764,207 acres the designation was a victory — critical for the survival and recovery of jaguars in the United States. It also included the Rosemont open-pit copper mine site and key movement corridors in the Santa Rita Mountains and near the border. (It unfortunately omitted New Mexico’s rugged Gila headwaters and Arizona’s pine-clad Mogollon Rim.)

We continue our work against Rosemont — including our 2017 lawsuit — to make sure it's never developed in the heart of the territory of one of North America’s most majestic mammals.

Check out our press releases to learn more about the Center's actions for jaguars.

Banner jaguar photo © Jonathan Truong.