The jaguar is the largest wild cat in the New World. These majestic cats once roamed from the southern U.S. to Argentina, serving as an apex predator in a diversity of ecosystems, from swampy savannahs to tropical rainforests. Today, jaguars are gone from Uruguay and El Salvador, and face perilous threats where they remain—including direct killing, habitat loss, and depletion of prey.
Jaguar Recovery in the U.S.
There are no known female jaguars currently inhabiting the U.S. A handful of males have been documented in southern Arizona and New Mexico over the last couple of decades, with remote cameras having photographed only 3 lone jaguars in recent years. These jaguars are presumed to have originated in northwestern Mexico.
In late 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published the Jaguar Draft Recovery Plan as a requirement of the jaguar’s listing under the Endangered Species Act. Wildlands Network responded to this long-awaited plan with thoughtful, science-driven comments. Our comments highlighted 2 key points that must be incorporated into the final plan to maximize the chances for jaguar recovery:
1. Important new research—designed in part by Wildlands Network—has revealed flaws in previous findings that indicated very limited habitat for jaguar recovery in the U.S. These flawed findings and the FWS’s related assumptions resulted in the agency’s severely under-identifying potential jaguar recovery areas in the American southwest.
2. The FWS should implement critical safeguards before pursuing jaguar reintroduction in the U.S. We agree with the conclusion, drawn by several of our partners, that relocating female jaguars or breeding pairs to the U.S. is the only viable path to a breeding population within our lifetimes—and that jaguar populations in northern Mexico are the most genetically similar source for a potential reintroduction. But we caution against compromising jaguar recovery efforts in northern Mexico by extracting individuals from populations that are not fully restored in their own right. We urge the FWS to implement strict requirements and best practices to ensure that jaguar recovery in the U.S. does not come at the expense of jaguar populations elsewhere.
Protecting Jaguars in Northwestern Mexico
When you truly understand one thing—a hawk, a juniper tree, a rock—you will begin to understand everything. Ellen Meloy, Eating Stone
The northernmost breeding population of jaguars is located in the Mexican state of Sonora, which also serves as the geographical heart of our Mexico Program. Some of our recent and current work in this region will directly or indirectly benefit jaguars. For example, we:
- negotiated the re-routing of a highway bypass through the Cocóspera River to preserve riparian habitat known to be used by jaguars. This habitat is located within a wildlife corridor connecting northern Mexico with the Santa Rita and Huachuca mountains in the U.S. (the wild places where jaguars have recently been documented).
- helped catalyze the re-categorization of the Ajos-Bavispe Reserve to enhance its protection for jaguars and other wildlife, and;
- are facilitating planning for the Northern Jaguar Reserve, a 55,000-acre protected area in northeastern Sonora.
Priorities for Jaguars
To restore healthy jaguar populations in the U.S. and northern Mexico, we must reconnect jaguar habitats within and between our 2 countries. Jaguars, like other wide-ranging carnivores, need to be able to move freely and safely through the landscape.
Wildlands Network strongly opposes the border wall. The wall threatens human communities and is a serious barrier to wildlife movement. We support legislative efforts to prevent wall construction, and lend a scientific voice to this heated political discussion.
We’re also working with a bi-national suite of partners to identify and protect jaguar corridors. In collaboration with Conservation Science Partners, we released a report revealing previously unidentified habitat and corridors for jaguars in the southern U.S. and northern Mexico. Using high-resolution data and cutting-edge habitat modeling software, the team at Conservation Science Partners improved upon prior jaguar modeling conducted for the FWS.
Finally, we’re striving to reduce the vast number of wildlife-vehicle collisions on Mexico’s Highway 2, a major highway roughly paralleling the U.S.-Mexico border. We initiated the Wildlife Linkages Binational Partnership to advocate for wildlife crossing structures at key locations along the highway, and to promote habitat connectivity in the borderlands region.