By Susan Montoya Bryan
The Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE » Environmental groups and scientists with two universities want U.S. wildlife managers to consider reintroducing jaguars to the American Southwest.
In a recently published paper, they say habitat destruction, highways and existing segments of the border wall mean that natural reestablishment of the large cats north of the U.S.-Mexico boundary would be unlikely over the next century without human intervention.
Jaguars are found in 19 countries, but biologists have said the animals have lost more than half of their historic range from South and Central America into the southwestern United States largely because of hunting and habitat loss.
Several individual male jaguars have been spotted in Arizona and New Mexico in the past two decades, but there’s no evidence of breeding pairs establishing territories beyond northern Mexico. Most recently, a male jaguar was spotted just south of the border, and another was seen in Arizona in January.
Scientists and experts with the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Center for Landscape Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and other organizations are pointing to more than 31,800 square miles of suitable habitat in the mountains of central Arizona and New Mexico that could support 90 to 150 jaguars.
They contend that reintroducing the cats is essential to species conservation and restoration of the region’s ecosystem.
“We are attempting to start a new conversation around jaguar recovery, and this would be a project that would be decades in the making,” Sharon Wilcox of Defenders of Wildlife, one of the study’s authors, said in an interview. “There are ecological dimensions, human dimensions that would need to be addressed in a truly collaborative manner. There would need to be a number of stakeholders who would want to be at the table in order to see this project move forward.”
Under a recovery plan finalized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mexico as well as countries in Central and South America are primarily responsible for monitoring jaguar movements within their territory. The agency has noted that the Southwestern U.S. represents just one-tenth of 1% of the jaguar’s historic range.
Environmentalists have criticized the plan, saying the U.S. government overlooked opportunities for recovery north of the international border.