There are about 15,000 jaguars living in the wild today. They are solitary creatures, preferring to live and hunt alone. But the one living and hunting in the United States takes the word “loner” to another level: The jaguar, nicknamed “El Jefe,” is the only known wild jaguar in the country.
El Jefe, which means “the boss” in Spanish, made his public debut Wednesday in video footage released by the Seattle-based Conservation CATalyst and the Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity. The brief clip shows the big cat roaming the grassy forest floor of the Santa Rita Mountains, outside Tucson, navigating rocky creeks, and just doing jaguar-y things:
Conservation CATalyst and the Center for Biological Diversity released new video today of the only known wild jaguar currently in the United States.Captured on remote sensor cameras in the Santa Rita Mountains just outside of Tucson, the dramatic footage provides a glimpse of the secretive life of one of nature’s most majestic and charismatic creatures. This is the first-ever publicly released video of the #jaguar, recently named 'El Jefe' by Tucson students, and it comes at a critical point in this cat’s conservation. Learn more here: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2016/jaguar-02-03-2016.htmlPosted by Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Since 2013, El Jefe has been photographed by motion-detecting cameras more than 100 times. But jaguars are notoriously elusive creatures. The 41-second video posted Wednesday is the product of three years of tracking. Chris Bugbee, a biologist at Conservation CATalyst, said in a statement that researchers regularly tinkered with camera locations and even used a dog specially trained to sniff out wildlife feces to track down El Jefe.
Historically, jaguars are not uncommon in Arizona. Their range once extended north from Argentina to Central America and Mexico and up into south-central states and even California and Louisiana. But the big cats all but disappeared from the U.S. in the last century, mostly due to habitat loss and federal population-control programs intended to protect livestock. Will Rizzo described the bleak state of the jaguar in the U.S. in Smithsonian magazine in 2005:
In 1963, a hunter in Arizona’s White Mountains shot a female, the last of her sex to be documented in the United States. Two years later, the last legally killed jaguar, a male, was taken by a deer hunter in the Patagonia Mountains, south of Tucson.
In 1969, Arizona outlawed most jaguar hunting, but with no females known to be at large, there was little hope the population could rebound. During the next 25 years, only two jaguars were documented in the United States, both killed: a large male shot in 1971 near the Santa Cruz River by two teenage duck hunters, and another male cornered by hounds in the Dos Cabezas Mountains in 1986.
The conservation centers say a proposed copper mine by a Canadian company in the middle of the Santa Rita Mountains threatens to cleave thousands of acres from the jaguar’s natural territory.
Biologists says El Jefe is the only verified jaguar living in the U.S. since Macho B, who was euthanized in 2009 following injuries sustained when he was captured and collared with a GPS tracker. The Arizona wildlife officials involved in the capture said it was accidental, but it was later revealed that one biologist had lured Macho B by placing feces from a captive female jaguar in heat along a trail the animal was known to frequent. (The Arizona Republic’s Dennis Wagner has a fascinating and comprehensive account of the capture and cover-up here.)
These days, the most jaguar conservationists can do—aside from hoping no one shoots and kills El Jefe—is wait for other jaguars, particularly female ones, to cross over the border from Mexico. Fingers crossed that happens in time for Valentine’s Day.