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Jaguar will get habitat protection in U.S. Southwest

January 12, 2010 |  4:34 pm


The Obama administration on Tuesday paved the way for the return of jaguars to the American Southwest by agreeing to designate a critical habitat for the biggest cat in the Western Hemisphere, which once roamed from California to Louisiana.

Jaguars occasionally are spotted in the Southwest, but usually because they cross from northern Mexico. Arguing that jaguars were native to Mexico rather than this country, the Bush administration refused to designate habitat for the endangered animal, which would give the cat special protection in certain areas. The Center for Biological Diversity filed three lawsuits since 2004 trying to compel that action. Last March, a federal judge ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to agree to designate a habitat.

On Tuesday, the Fish and Wildlife Service said it would do so and also draw up a recovery plan for the species.

Federal officials have until January 2011 to disclose their intentions, which could include intentionally reintroducing the predator to the Southwestern desert. The notion is likely to be controversial, as ranchers and some rural communities have fought the return of another predator, the Mexican gray wolf, to the region.

"It's a good day for jaguars in the United States and it's also an important day for the integrity of their ecosystem," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. "They are going to be able to recover in the United States."

Last year the Arizona Game and Fish Department reported the first jaguar capture in the U.S. in decades when it snared a cat in southern Arizona. The jaguar, known as Macho B, soon died, possibly from injuries inflicted by the snare.

-- 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