Some 20 million acres of rugged forest land in central Arizona and New Mexico stretches as far north as the Grand Canyon and covers more territory than some conservation areas in Central America and South America. It also has an abundance of whitetail deer, one of the jaguar’s favorite prey. Scientists say the region could support 100 or more jaguars. In fact, as many as eight have been known to exist here over the past 25 years, secretively surviving in mountain ranges like the Santa Ritas, 20 miles from Tucson. But the area was mistakenly overlooked in the federal jaguar recovery plan in 2018.
“That recovery plan could have put forth an ambitious blueprint for jaguar restoration,” says Sharon Wilcox, Defenders’ senior Texas representative. “Instead, it only evaluated the U.S. habitat in a narrow 80-mile band along the Mexican border and concluded too little habitat remained to sustain a U.S. jaguar population. Now that we know there is sufficient habitat, we are asking that the Biden administration embrace this new scientific information and start planning to restore them to their rightful place in the U.S. after they were methodically and mercilessly exterminated by hunters, ranchers and federal agents for two centuries.” Mexican gray wolves, like jaguars, were once extirpated from the U.S. but, through a collaborative program with the federal government, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, states, nonprofits and cooperating landowners, wolves came back to Arizona and New Mexico. “Let’s hope we can say the same for jaguars in coming years,” says Wilcox.