Rare photo leads to full-fledged population study on southwestern Jaguars

New jaguar study to be conducted in Arizona and New Mexico

Campsite #5 in Zion’s Kolob Canyons backcountry sits about 30 yards off of the trail and above a drainage gnarled with twisted juniper and stacked with boulders shoved down from the surrounding cliffs. The water has cleared enough of it over the years on its way to Laverkin Creek to carve a navigable path perfect for an after-dinner scramble.

My hope with any little stroll like this is to discover something cool. For me, the hope is usually wildlife. In this case, I was hoping to see a mountain lion. Hope is actually a strong word in this context because, well, these big cats are ninja-like elusive. Beyond that, they’re just freaking rare. Even those who have jobs to study them have to work their asses off to find them. Still, you always hope to be the one who comes out of the woods with a very cool story, the person who gets to report a sighting to rangers. It was the right time of day (dusk) and the area sees few people. Although I “knew” it wouldn’t happen, I so much wanted it to.

A few weeks ago an adult male jaguar was captured on film in Cochise County, AZ. The photo triggered an alert to researchers that maybe their activity in the region is increasing. Almost two decades endangered, the jaguar, native to Latin America, roams the southwestern deserts between southern Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. Only five have been photographed since its listing. The new photo led to approval by the University of Arizona for a study that will hide 120 more motion-activated cameras throughout the region in hopes of, well, spotting, one of these rare felines.

Obviously, ranchers are pissed about it, because the study may seek cooperation from private landowners for camera placement. All the usual large predator politics will surely ensue. (It should also be noted that the study is being funded by none other than the Department of Homeland Security. What do you think that means?)

I hope they catch quite a few on camera and learn all they can about what’s left of this rare American species. I also hope people quit pronouncing it, “jag-WIRE.”

Learn more about our rare big cats at the University of Arizona’s Wild Cat Research and Conservation Center. 

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