El Jefe, North America’s last jaguar, is now back in the limelight, after it was recently photographed roaming the Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona.
Footage showing the elusive big cat was made public on Wednesday, February 3, by the Center for Biological Diversity.
The male jaguar known as El Jefe was first identified in 2011, and experts speculate that he reached Arizona after migrating from a Mexican state known as Sonora, located approximately 130 miles south from the border.
At the beginning of the 19th century, jaguars used to have a much wider distribution, being found in an area stretching from Texas to California, with some big cats of this kind being reported even in Louisiana.
Due to major habitat loss and excessive trophy hunting and poaching, the population of this species has been dramatically depleted, and jaguars have been classified as endangered ever since 1972.
As revealed by Michelle LaRue, executive director of the Cougar Network and wildlife ecologist at the University of Minnesota, nowadays, the spotted felines can only be found in Central America, Paraguay, Argentina and Mexico.
The closest region with a breeding population is Sonora, and that’s why researchers believe that’s where El Jefe may have come from.
Thought to be approximately 7 years old, the big cat has captured the interest of experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Center from the very beginning, given the fact that no other jaguars are known to exist in the wilderness throughout North America.
Biologists have named the exceptionally rare feline “jaguar Santa Rita”, because that’s where the big cat has always been spotted.
The nickname “El Jefe” (which translates as “the boss” in Spanish) was only recently adopted, after schoolkids came up with the moniker in October 2015 during a competition organized by the Center for Biological Diversity.
Apparently, at around the same time last year the feline was also filmed by remote sensor cameras set up by a team of researchers led by Chris Bugbee, affiliated with Conservation CATalyst.
The biologists had been trying for the last 3 years to take photographs of El Jefe, using professionally trained dogs capable of identifying jaguar scat. Even though it was extremely challenging to monitor just one particular creature, famous for its solitary ways, efforts finally paid off.
In the footage, the big cat can be seen stealthily making its way through the dense vegetation, and nimbly sauntering up a creek, probably in search of prey consisting mainly of collared peccaries and deer.
Despite being the only jaguar known to inhabit the U.S. nowadays, El Jefe isn’t actually the only feline in this mountain range situated just 25 miles away from Tucson, Arizona.
There are also 3 dwarf leopards (ocelots) in the vicinity, which are also of interest to conservationists, given that the species is now considered endangered in many regions of the world. Other neighbors consist in bobcats and mountain lions, according to biologist Marit Alanen, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Center.
As Alanen explains, the fact that four different types of felines can co-exist in Southern Arizona shows how rich in resources the region is, and that more extensive measures should be taken to ensure that this nurturing habitat remains protected from poachers and other intruders.
Such conservation efforts are especially important nowadays, given that plans are underway to build the Rosemont Copper mine right in the middle of the Santa Rita Mountains, therefore putting at risk the survival of these already threatened big cats.
Image Source: HNGN