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To catch an American jaguar

December 10, 2009 |  4:36 pm

Jaguar
 
In February, the Arizona Game and Fish Department announced excitedly that it had collared the first jaguar in U.S. history, in the desert southwest of Tucson.

Some environmentalists, however, received this news with dismay. State officials found the exceedingly rare, 118-pound cat because it wandered into snares set for cougars and bears as part of a separate state project. And within weeks, the state announced it had to euthanize the animal because it was injured -- possibly by the same snare that initially captured him.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued, alleging that the state violated the Endangered Species Act by engaging in activity that put a federally protected animal at risk. The state replied that the claim was moot because it had halted the bear and cougar monitoring project that snared the initial cat, known as "Macho B."

Today the plaintiffs strike back. In papers filed in federal court in Tucson, they claim Arizona is still engaged in a host of activities that could threaten the jaguars, who are more frequently spotted in Mexico but roam across southern Arizona and New Mexico as well.

The department, the center alleges in its filing, is engaged in cougar captures near Tucson, Payson and Prescott and in the vast western desert near the Koffa National Wildlife Refuge. These projects are similar to the one that inadvertently snared Macho B and may have led to his demise.

"The Arizona Game and Fish Department doesn't seem to have learned any lesson from Macho B's death," said Michael Robinson, an official at the center, in a statement.

The Game and Fish Department did not return a call for comment. UPDATE: Department spokesman Bob Miles called back late today but said he couldn't comment on ongoing litigation.

-- Nicholas Riccardi

Photo: A motion-activated camera was triggered by a jaguar on night patrol near the U.S.-Mexico border.   The December 2001 photo gave officials new evidence that jaguars, the biggest cats in the Western Hemisphere, visit the southern part of Arizona and may even live there. Credit: Arizona Game and Fish Department 
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