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Arizona jaguar's death probably hastened by capture, zoo veterinarian says

Macho B, the jaguar captured in Arizona and later euthanized due to kidney failure

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

Comments () | Archives (9)

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There is in inherit wrong in tranquilizing and collaring wildlife, whether it be an aging and extremely rare jaguar or a wolf, bear, mountain lion, or whatever. in my opinion, when this is done, the wildlife is no longer wild. Just looking at the photos of the collar on the Jaguar, i could tell it was obviously an annoyance and could even have induced panic in the big cat. The bulky collar surely was an annoyance, inhibited the animals ability to hunt, and a distraction. The radio microwaves, strong enough to communicate with a satellite 22,300 miles out in space emanating next to the animals brain surely could cause dna damage and possible tumors and cancer. What we need to do is to leave the wildlife alone, and focus instead on preserving essential wilderness and their connecting corridors where the wildlife can live uninhibited.

"I'm glad they collared him," Rice said. Otherwise, "he would have just gone off and died somewhere on his own," Rice said.

So, explain to me - what is the overwhelming value of having an elderly wild animal hauled into captivity to die. Imagine the additional stress he must have endured in his last hours. For what? So that he wouldn't have to go off and die somewhere on his own?

There's intervention - and then there's intervention. The positive aspect of this intervention completely eludes me.

I think they recaptured him with the hope that medical intervention could save him, not to euthanize him. Conservationists need to know what the connecting corridors and habitat of a species are in order to help save them. Capturing and collaring helps to determine that information, but I think that with modern technology there must be better ways to track them than to use radio collars. They could probably "tag" them with some kind of GPS device just by darting them. I think that tranquilizing an old cat, who very likely has health problems associated with age, is a very bad idea. They definitely should have left this cat alone. I wonder if they saved DNA with the possibility of cloning him.

They were trying to catch black bears and cougars when the jaguar stepped into the trap. They were not trying to catch Macho B. Here are a few things to consider before condemning anyone:

1.) For at least 13 years this animal has been roaming AZ and has encountered the Fish and Wildlife's traps for bears and cougars before. He has never been caught before. His carelessness might indicate his advanced age or illness.

2.) A jaguar in a trap. Consider that for a second. Now, you tell me how you get the snare off his leg without a tranq? I don't think that anyone in their right mind would put a 13+ year old animal through through immobilization without good reason. The good reason? The animal would have died in the snare or he would have killed a bunch of biologists and THEN died in the snare without chemical immobilization.

3.) The collar looks big but they are not lead, they are delicate computer parts dipped and re-dipped and dipped again in plastic resin. It may be a bit bulky but it is very light.

4.) I think that it sucks and no amount of candy-coating by any governmental agency can make it better. It just sucks period. But it was an accidental capture - what do you suggest that they would have done differently?

I'm supportive of allowing wild animals to have their God given life without being shot for mere sport, but I'm laughing at the idiots who are holding a "memorial" for a cat that was failing due to natural kidney failure. As for the non-profit director calling for an investigation, thats so typical for a non-profit. They do anything they can to enhance their own image even though they accomplish very, very, very little to earn the Government funding they always seek.

A sorry story of thoughtless 'good intentions' without careful details being included, and one that can easily be transposed to the human situation:
1. Leave well alone.
2. KNOW that invervention causes stress.
3. The older the individual--whatever species--the greater and also unpredictable the effect from the intervention.
4. Man has now enough sorry proof that where we tread no more grass will grow, whether it is stomping on Ant-Arctic snow, Kilimanjaro, the Rain Forests, the Alps, the polluted rivers, flattened mountain tops, oil shale or a precious big cat, in Arizona or Africa or Sumatra.
We are the locusts--whatever else we pretend to be, especially that role of the 'saviors'.
We have a basic lack of 'sanctity of Life' as Schweitzer called it. Very few humans have it, seek it, live it, or make themselves heard in the din of us as the rapacius locusts.

It's a tragedy that this rare species was trapped and collared. I thought it was great news that photos were taken of a jaguar in Arizona, that one even existed. I hope that this never occurs again.

It's comforting to know that we have idiots like Dean Rice in the wildlife business - I thought these kind of morons were reserved for politics.

It is indeed a tragedy that this animal perished after being sedated, but it appears obvious that it was nearing death regardless. Perhaps biologists sometimes interfere with the wildlife they are trying to help too much, but there certainly is a wealth of information to learn about how to save, preserve and assist wildlife by trapping and collaring individuals. Maybe they could have found his mate, helped kittens survive, or understood better what he and his species needed for survival before it was too late. My guess is poor Macho B was on his way out, and it could have been a slow, painful death as he became more emaciated and weak. While unfortunate to lose such an amazing animal in our country, it may have been more humane for this individual than we think. We should certainly learn more about any situation as well as those involved before we condemn them to stupidity and selfishness. I am simply amazed this animal even lived there for long...how lucky for those who got to share.


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