A wild jaguar in Arizona? Yes, indeed, that’s no leopard.
Wildlife experts said a previously unknown jaguar caught on an Arizona trail camera is the second-known member of its species living in the United States. The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity said the young male jaguar was photographed by a Fort Huachuca trail camera in the Huachuca Mountains, near Sierra Vista, and the picture was posted to Facebook by the Cochise County Boy Scouts of America.
A few notes: First, despite similar looks, Jaguars are not Leopards. Their habitats do not overlap and jaguars are bigger than leopards. Jaguars live in South America, Central America, Mexico, or very select parts of the southern United States. Jaguars are larger and stockier than leopards and can kill prey by cracking their skulls while leopards kill with a suffocating bite. A jaguar can kill a crocodile and can sometimes beat a lion or a tiger, while a leopard almost always could not. (link) So, these are not just cute large cats. Think of them on the level with the other two big cats, lions and tigers.
The center said the jaguar is the first confirmed member of its species in the Huachucas and only the second confirmed jaguar in the United States after a mature male dubbed El Jefe was captured on video about a year ago.
“We’ve been expecting another jaguar to pop up in southern Arizona for some time now,” said Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Congratulations to Fort Huachuca for their good luck in capturing this beautiful animal on film.”
The center said the formerly thriving U.S. jaguar population was wiped out over the past century by predator control programs.
“Jaguars will keep returning to southern Arizona to repopulate their ancestral homelands,” Serraglio said. “Jaguars belong here, and if we protect the wide-open spaces they need, they will thrive here again. El Jefe has proven that.”
If you’d like to read about the possible return of these rare big cats to the United States, SmithsonianMag has a good article:
“This isn’t a mountain lion track,” McCain says, shaking his head after measuring and then tracing it onto a piece of plexiglass.
The print is huge, four-toed and without claws, like that of a large mountain lion. But the heel pad is too big for a mountain lion, the toes too close to the back pad.
We follow the cat’s trail below camel-colored rimrock and live oaks to where it passes an automated camera. For the past year, McCain has operated nearly 30 heat-triggered cameras in these remote mountains that connect the U.S. borderlands to Mexico’s northernmost Sierra Madre. When the film is developed days later, McCain’s instincts are proved correct. The cat isn’t a mountain lion—it’s a jaguar, low slung and powerful, moving past yucca and volcanic rock, its eyes reflecting gold in the camera’s flash.
For four years, camera traps operated by the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project, based in Amado, Arizona, have documented two jaguars in these high, arid washes. They may have caught a third animal on film—the cat appears differently patterned than the others. If it is a female, it would be the first one known in the United States in 40 years. It’s possible the cats were here all along, unnoticed, or they may be visitors from Mexico. It’s also possible that jaguars are returning to—and breeding in—the United States.