A rare jaguar has been photographed in the Huachuca Mountains in southeastern Arizona, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports.
The photo of the big cat was taken Dec. 1 by a remote trail camera on the Fort Huachuca Army installation near Sierra Vista, southeast of Tuscon.
“Preliminary indications are that the cat is a male jaguar and, potentially, an individual not previously seen in Arizona,” said Benjamin Tuggle, regional director for the southwest region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We are working with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to determine if this sighting represents a new individual jaguar.”
The jaguar may be the third jaguar confirmed to have roamed the remote mountains and deserts of southern Arizona in recent years.
Since the 1980s, there have been occasional jaguar sightings in Arizona by hunters and hikers. In 2009, a jaguar was caught in an Arizona Fish and Wildlife trap.
The jaguar, named Macho B, was collared with a GPS tracking device and was estimated to be 15 to 16 years old.
In 2011, a new male jaguar estimated to weigh 200 pounds was spotted roaming the Arizona Ski Island mountain ranges. Named El Jefe after a vote by Tuscon school children, he has been photographed more than 100 times by remote trail cameras in the Santa Rita mountains, less than 30 miles from Tucson.
The latest sighting at Fort Huachuca appears to be a new jaguar, but more confirmation is needed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says.
“While this is exciting news, we are examining photographic evidence to determine if we’re seeing a new cat here, or if this is an animal that has been seen in Arizona before,” said Jim deVos, assistant director of the department’s Wildlife Management Division. “We look forward to partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and thoroughly vetting the evidence.”
Jaguars are a protected species under the Endangered Species Act and cannot be harmed or harassed. They are more prevalent in northern Mexico and are known to roam back and forth across the U.S. Mexican border to find habitat and prey.
In 2014, the Fish and Wildlife Service finalized the designation of 764,207 acres as critical for the survival and recovery of jaguars in southern Arizona and a small portion of southwestern New Mexico. In 2006, there was a confirmed sighting of a jaguar in New Mexico’s boot heel area in a mountain range that extends into Mexico.
There are several corridors where jaguars cross the U.S. Mexican border, said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tuscon. And efforts to extend the border wall would jeopardize the jaguar by restricting its habitat.
“The wall is a huge concern,” he said. “Areas where the jaguar has crossed in the past have been walled off such as at the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.”
A Fish and Wildlife recovery plan is pending for the jaguar. Robinson said, since the 1960s, jaguars confirmed in the U.S. have all been males. While a natural jaguar population is possible, recovery would likely require augmentation of females, he said.
Jaguars are larger than mountain lions and roar like African lions. They prey mostly on deer, and El Jefe has been documented taking down a black bear, according to an article in Smithsonian magazine.