Arizona jaguar's death probably hastened by capture, zoo veterinarian says
A jaguar captured recently during an Arizona Game and Fish Department research study was fitted with a tracking collar and released. Jaguars were once thought to be extinct in the U.S., and researchers were hopeful that following the big cat's movements could prove helpful in the jaguar conservation effort.
Following its release, researchers were excited to confirm that the jaguar was one they'd previously seen in still images captured by remote trail cameras over the last 13 years. The cat, whom they called "Macho B," was thought to be the oldest known wild jaguar at about 15-16 years old. Our colleague Kelly Burgess at the Outposts blog wrote:
"Every indication is that Macho B is doing well and has recovered from his capture and collaring," Terry Johnson, Arizona Game and Fish department endangered species coordinator, said. "Until now, all we've had is a photo here and a photo there, but nothing that shed light on what the species does while moving within or between habitats."
Macho B is one of at least two jaguars known to have roamed southern Arizona in recent years. The other jaguar, Macho A, was photographed in 2001 but hasn't been seen since 2004. It is unknown if he has returned to Mexico or has died.
But events took a sad turn when wildlife officials noted Macho B's movement patterns slowing. Observing the jaguar in the wild, they noted his abnormal gait and apparent weight loss. Fearing for his health, they recaptured Macho B and transported him to the Phoenix Zoo for evaluation.
Shortly thereafter, Macho B was euthanized when tests revealed severe kidney failure from which he could not recover. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Jeff Humphrey said kidney failure was common in older cats, but questions remained about whether stress from his capture had caused or exacerbated Macho B's condition. A necropsy was performed, and today Phoenix Zoo Executive Vice President Dr. Dean Rice is saying the capture probably played a key role in the jaguar's death.
While Macho B probably had existing kidney problems, stress and the increased pressure on his body to process the tranquilizer drugs used during his capture probably hastened his death, according to Rice.
"Any medications, any drugs we take, no matter whether you are human or animal ... if you give them sedation and the kidneys are not working," the medication can have a damaging effect, Rice said in an interview with the Arizona Daily Star. But he won't criticize those who captured Macho B:
"I'm glad they collared him," Rice said. Otherwise, "he would have just gone off and died somewhere on his own," Rice said.
But the Center for Biological Diversity has called for an independent investigation into Macho B's death, questioning whether his advanced age was properly considered during his capture. "We hope Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will appoint a recovery team for the jaguar with their first task being an investigation into the causes of Macho B’s death and needed actions to ensure this tragedy is not repeated," the Center's Michael Robinson said in a statement. The Arizona Daily Star reported:
[Robinson] said the group would not be "pointing fingers; we want more information," but he called the death terrible news.
"Macho B was one of a kind, having lived in the U.S. 13 years at least," said Robinson, referring to the time when the cat was first photographed. "It's a sad thing to us that he may never have gotten a mate or have kittens in the U.S., because there were no actions taken to recover the species and there is no evidence that he had a mate."
Van Pelt, who has been involved with tracking Macho B for 13 years, said the cat was like a family friend.
"You know, like someone whom at Christmastime you exchange pictures with once a year, and as the years go by, you see how things change with them. For this animal, I'd be getting these pictures to see how it was doing. It is sad, but I also think it demonstrates the importance of maintaining open space and connectivity of habitats, not only for jaguars but for all wildlife species."
A memorial service for the big cat is planned for Thursday outside the Tucson office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
-- Lindsay Barnett
Photo: Associated Press