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Jaguar will get habitat protection in U.S. Southwest


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

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Explain to me how you determine "critical habitat" for a population segment that comprises less than .05% of the total population . We are talking about three animals of the same sex that spend an undetermined proportion of their time on the north side of a political boundary--a boundary which is now defined by a "hardened" border fence.

This is a fence that further inhibits transmigration of wildlife, but which apparently facilitates illegal transmigration of humans, thanks to the roads and infrastructure built to install the fence. Anyone who thinks that our border is "hardened" for illegal immigration is living in a dream world. The only border crossers that are inhibited are wild animals, especially large mammals.

"Macho B" was euthanized after it was diagnosed with kidney failure. The subsequent autopsy confirmed this. The allegation of misdiagnosis was the opinion of a veterinarian who did not participate in the autopsy. The question of whether or not the capture was deliberate has not been determined, primarily because the participants have been "lawyered up" (a technical term that I learned growing up in rural Texas).

An "independent investigation" requested by Arizona Game and Fish and the US Fish and Wildlife Service is now apparently the subject of an investigation by the Inspector General's office. This will go on until all parties can arrive at a politically correct solution.

The whole situation has degenerated into (a) a frenzy of political ass protection and (b) an NGO fundraising bonanza, nether of which adds one iota to the protection and management of habitat for jaguars. To protect jaguar habitat, we need to know what habitat types jaguars are using. The only way to know that is to put radio collars on healthy animals and gather data. That won't happen now.

USFWS will draw some lines on maps. These polygons will be further litigated by environmental groups that make their living suing the federal and state agencies until some consensus is reached-- a consensus that will not be based on hard data, but rather on the minimum that the plaintiffs are willing to accept--areas that will include all of their favorite places to picnic, hike, and "experience nature". The jaguars will come and go, regardless...

Reiandy: Great post, I agree. Apex predators cull the heard, removing the weak, leaving only the strongest to survive and reproduce. Human hunters get it backwards. They kill only the biggest and strongest individuals, leaving the heard weaker, without its best DNA.

Shame about CA though, we still have black bears, but the Grizzly, which is on our flag, is long extinct here. Intersting trivia fact that not many Angelenos know: the LA basin used to have the highest concentration of Grizzly bears in the whole country, they do really well in thick chaparral. The last Grizzly officially killed in SoCal was appropriatley enough in Grizzly Flats in the San Gabriels in 1902.

I applaud the efforts to try to recapture the diversity of species native to America, Because it's not only people that make a nation great but also it's resources. Believe it or not, a natural predator can only benefit our ecosystems...and will help instill a healthy dose of respect of nature to those who live in rural areas. Just look at the ecosystem disasters of China, England and other countries that did not realize the importance of animals as a part of the total picture. China just realized that their river dolphins are extinct...not only from human hunting but also from pollution and habitat competition with humans. We, as Americans, should be able to realize the importance of keeping all the members of our society they human, plant or animal- they are all a part of who we are. What would America be without our bald eagle? What would the southwest be without it's wild horses? What would California be without our bears? These are questions that I do not want my daughter to worry about- I want her to know the wonders of being an American!

The jaguar that was captured was euthanized; it didn't die of injuries! Game and Fish determined it was in kidney failure from stress, but a later autopsy suggested that was not the case, and it was euthanized prematurely. Also it was revealed that the jaguar was deliberately captured by a Game and Fish employee contrary to department direction. Please get your facts straight before you publish an article. These are well documented!


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