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Photo: Eric Kilby / Flickr

Just weeks after the news broke of a new jaguar in the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a draft jaguar recovery plan that puts the onus of recovery of northern jaguars entirely on Mexico. The plan’s criteria for recovery and removal of the jaguar from the “endangered” list could be met without any jaguars occupying any of their vast historic range in the United States.

This month a young, male jaguar was photographed in the Huachuca Mountains of southern Arizona. From 2011 until last year, a mature male jaguar known as “El Jefe” was repeatedly photographed in and around the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson. Another jaguar called “Macho B” was photographed repeatedly from 1996 until he was killed by the Arizona Department of Game and Fish as a result of a botched capture operation in 2009.

A male jaguar photographed by automatic wildlife cameras in Arizona's Santa Rita Mountains in 2014. (Photo: USFWS)

A male jaguar photographed by automatic wildlife cameras in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains in 2014. (Photo: USFWS)

“Jaguars are making their presence known in the southwestern United States so it’s disappointing to see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put the focus of jaguar recovery solely in Mexico,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “By excluding the best remaining unoccupied jaguar habitat, this plan aims too low to make a difference in saving the jaguar. It’s an extinction plan, not a recovery plan.”

The draft plan, which the Service reluctantly wrote after its 2009 loss in a lawsuit filed by the Center and Defenders of Wildlife, assumes without evidence that 300 jaguars live in Sonora, Mexico — a more optimistic starting point than the Service’s 2012 citation of studies pointing to a maximum of 271 jaguars in the province and possibly as few as 50.

Since 2013 conservationists monitoring the northernmost breeding jaguars in Sonora, via automatic cameras, saw a poaching loss of six of the area’s eight individually identified jaguars, leaving just two known alive. The remainder of the population is less closely monitored but equally at risk.

Jaguars are primarily killed by ranchers who use pesticides imported from the United States to poison the carcasses of collared peccary, or javelinas, which are among the jaguars’ natural prey animals.

“While the plan, importantly, outlines measures that Mexican authorities can take in protecting jaguars, that’s simply not enough,” said Robinson. “Leaving the vast Gila National Forest and Mogollon Plateau off the table leaves the jaguars in Sonora effectively stranded, likely cut off from jaguars farther south and with no genetic rescue on the way from reintroduction to the north.”

The draft recovery plan’s overly optimistic assumption that 300 jaguars inhabit Sonora underpins the Service’s laissez-faire approach to jaguars in the United States, where no measures will be taken to restore these apex predators.

This month a young, male jaguar was photographed in the Huachuca Mountains of southern Arizona. From 2011 until last year, a mature male jaguar known as “El Jefe” was repeatedly photographed in and around the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson. Another jaguar called “Macho B” was photographed repeatedly from 1996 until he was killed by the Arizona Department of Game and Fish as a result of a botched capture operation in 2009.

The last known female jaguar in the United States was shot by a hunter in 1963 in the Apache National Forest on the Mogollon Plateau in Arizona, in an area where Mexican gray wolves have since been reintroduced.

The draft recovery plan also estimates that Sonora has habitat sufficient to support 1,166 jaguars — an order of magnitude higher than the most recent previous estimate that the province could support just 172 jaguars. Raising the so-called carrying capacity also justifies ignoring the high-quality but unoccupied jaguar habitat in the Gila National Forest and Mogollon Plateau in the U.S. Southwest.

The draft plan divides the jaguar’s vast range in South, Central and North America into two zones — a Pan-America Recovery Unit and a Northwestern Recovery Unit — and leaves the question of how to protect jaguars in the former unit to another day. The plan also ignores the plight of another, isolated jaguar population in northeastern Mexico south of Texas. As for the Northwestern Recovery Unit, comprising the area from Jalisco, Mexico northward to Interstate 10 in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, it divides this region into primary and secondary zones, the former consisting of the area in which jaguars currently live and breed and the latter the area farther to the north, including part of the United States, in which jaguars are known to inhabit but not reproduce during the past 50 years.

Conservation actions are prescribed for the primary area, with little attention to the secondary area. Moreover, a so-called “peripheral area” farther north includes the highest-quality jaguar habitat remaining in the U.S. — on the Mogollon Plateau in Arizona and the Gila National Forest in New Mexico — a region dismissed from consideration for recovery.

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