Denizens of lowland tropical jungles and wetlands, jaguars also once routinely roamed amid evergreen and deciduous forests in the American Southwest. And they could again.

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. 

More Articles From This Issue

Connected by Culture 

Scientists refer to the diversity of life on Earth as biodiversity, which usually means the diversity of species, genes and habitats. In this essay, a prominent ecologist delves into a fourth area that has been almost entirely overlooked: cultural diversity. He explains that passing down learned skills and knowledge also provides species with ways to stay resilient that can help them adapt to a changing world.

Ripple Effects

Fine-rayed pigtoe, Purple cat’s paw and spectaclecase are just a few of the amusing names given to mussels in Appalachia, one of the continent’s oldest, most biologically diverse mountain ecosystems. What’s troubling is how they, along with dozens of other sensitive freshwater species—including darters and dace—are living in streams where, because of mountaintop-removal mining, water-quality measurements have exceeded toxicity and acidity thresholds thousands of times since 1985.

Snake River Dams Must Go

At the mouth of the Columbia River, endangered southern resident orcas gather in early spring hoping to gorge on chinook. The endangered fish—the largest of the West Coast salmon—comprise the majority of the diet of these endangered marine mammals, which often awe tourists and residents when they appear in Puget Sound off Seattle.


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