Jaguars once roamed from the Amazon Basin in South America all the way up north to the American Southwest. Due to high demand for their unique fur coats, and to extensive extermination campaigns targeted at all apex predators—fueled by fear and a profound lack of understanding of these critical carnivores—jaguars were nearly wiped off the map in the U.S. during the 19th and 20th centuries. In Mexico, similar threats reduced the population significantly throughout its historic range south of the border.
For decades, conservation experts and government agencies both in Mexico and the U.S. have worked individually and collectively, through binational agreements, to develop plans to protect and rebuild jaguar populations in their native habitats.
On April 24, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released the final Jaguar Recovery Plan. Many of the recovery actions proposed in the plan reaffirm Wildlands Network’s key strategies for protecting and enhancing jaguar populations in Mexico and the U.S., while also demonstrating the need for continued robust advocacy with government officials to improve and strengthen the official recovery programs.
The recovery plan details the necessity for stronger habitat connectivity through the usage of wildlife crossings and identifying new key habitat areas were jaguars can successfully be reintroduced.
Navigating the Road to Recovery
For years, Wildlands Network has been working with our partners in Sonora to research and develop effective wildlife crossings to connect crucial habitats for wildlife, including jaguars, across Mexico’s federal Highway 2. Building successful wildlife crossings over Highway 2 is particularly crucial since jaguars more than likely will use this road to successfully expand their populations back in the southwestern U.S. We are already partnering with FWS and transportation agencies in Mexico to move forward on this critical project.
However, we continue to see a need for NGOs and scientists working to conserve jaguars to push FWS harder to ensure suitable jaguar habitat in the U.S. is identified, protect connectivity across the border, and to secure long-term land protections on both sides of the border as a crucial element for recovery.
Previously, we partnered with Conservation Science Partners to develop detailed habitat mapping of the southern United States and northern Mexico. This mapping identifies additional potentially suitable jaguar habitat in Arizona and New Mexico, suggesting that previous maps of jaguar habitat—including those relied on by FWS for their recovery plan—have underestimated suitable habitat for jaguar in the United States, and to a lesser extent in Mexico.
Even after we shared this groundbreaking analysis with the agency, FWS failed to properly include potential habitat areas in the Southwest that were historically occupied by jaguars and must be considered and preserved for recovery of the species’ northern populations in the U.S. The current jaguar recovery plan limits the jaguar recovery area to lands south of Interstate 10 and in lower altitudes, which leaves millions of acres of suitable habitat off the table and the planning for recovery of jaguars in the United States incomplete.
It Takes a Binational Village
Protecting a large predator across jurisdictions, in countries with different cultures and asymmetrical conservation capacities is never easy. Nevertheless, we believe that through the commitment and dedication of experts on both sides of the border, as well as the continued maintenance of critical corridors connecting both countries, the further recovery of jaguars across their historic range is possible.
This effort will more specifically require maintaining a fenceless border, supporting law enforcement in Mexico, protecting land in both countries, making roads permeable to jaguars and addressing ranchers’ concerns—all of which are collective efforts no single entity can undertake successfully.
Therefore, we will continue to work with government agencies, advocacy groups, landowners, and scientists on both sides of the border to develop the best research and governmental action plans to increase habitat connectivity and identify suitable areas for jaguar introduction. Our hope is that future generations in both countries can appreciate the might and majesty of the iconic jaguar.