Jaguar, © Arizona Game and Fish Dept.

© Arizona Game and Fish Dept.
In life he had a following. In death he leaves a legacy. Macho B, a jaguar who roamed the wildlands of southern Arizona for more than 13 years, died in March. His presence there was a reminder of a time when jaguars were more plentiful in this country, and a hopeful sign that the cats can and will return—if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes action to recover the species.

In March, following a lawsuit brought by Defenders of Wildlife, a federal court ruled that the agency must take another look at its decision not to develop a recovery plan for the jaguar. Considered endangered throughout their entire range from the Southwest to Patagonia, the big cats were nearly driven from the United States by predator control, hunting and habitat loss.

"Under the Bush administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service was willing to basically write the jaguar off because there are so few jaguars left in this country," says Eva Sargent, director of Defenders of Wildlife's Southwest program. "The United States is the jaguar's home, and we should take the actions necessary for it to recover here. We are thrilled with the court's decision and hope the Fish and Wildlife Service will now move quickly to initiate recovery planning and provide the jaguar with the full Endangered Species Act protections."

Researchers believe that jaguar habitat in the northern portion of the species' range is becoming increasingly important to the jaguar's existence as more forest land in Central and South America is destroyed to make way for agriculture and housing.

"The Bush administration treated the jaguar like an unwanted visitor, rather than a valuable part of the Southwest's desert ecosystem," says Sargent. "It is vitally important that the United States take a leadership role in helping to safeguard and recover the jaguar within our borders and beyond." The government has until next January to complete its review.

Learn more about Defenders' efforts to protect the jaguar.

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