PHOENIX – A Bureau of Land Management trail camera has photographed what scientists say is the third jaguar to be sighted in Southern Arizona in recent years – decades after a hunter killed what was believed to be the last one.
But that doesn’t mean the big cats have repopulated Arizona. It’s probable the jaguars – and ocelots – are entering the country from Mexico along a wildlife corridor.
“This is a unique development,” said Jim deVos in an email. deVos is the assistant director for Wildlife Management at the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “Jaguars are a historical component of Arizona’s wildlife diversity. However, given the irregularity with which the jaguar presence in Arizona is documented, even with the expanded use of trail cameras, this sighting is not an indication that jaguars are establishing a population in Arizona.”
Steve Spangle, an Arizona field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in the same email said the extra cameras have helped provide a better understanding “of jaguar presence and habitat preferences. This supports the phenomenon that jaguars seeking territories outside of competitive breeding areas in Mexico continue to occasion Arizona.”
The most recent photograph was taken Nov. 16, three months after the BLM set up the camera in the Dos Cabezas Mountains roughly 60 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
The camera, according to Arizona Game and Fish, was recently retrieved and its images analyzed. Only one photo of a jaguar was taken over the six months the camera was active. It has since been set up in the same location along the wildlife corridor.
Five Game and Fish scientists independently completed a study of the jaguar to determine whether it was a different cat than the other two. They determined this was the case after comparing the spot patterns of the three jaguars.
A male jaguar was repeatedly photographed in the Whetstone and Santa Rita mountains between 2011 and 2015. Another male was photographed twice in the Huachuca Mountains in December and January. The sex of the third jaguar could not be determined by looking at the photograph, according to Game and Fish.
Jaguars are a protected species and have been for 50 years.