This week, a new, peer-reviewed scientific study finds that there is far more potential jaguar habitat in the U.S. than was previously thought. Scientists identified an area of more than 20 million acres that could support jaguars in the U.S., 27 times the size of designated critical habitat.
The results, published in the journal Oryx, are based on a review of 12 habitat models for jaguars within Arizona and New Mexico, conclusively identifying areas suitable for the recovery of these wild cats. Based on the expanded habitat area, the authors conclude that findings uncover new opportunities for jaguar conservation in North America that could address threats from habitat loss, climate change, and border infrastructure.
Bryan Bird, Director for Southwest Programs at Defenders of Wildlife and one of the study’s co-authors, issued this statement:
“This fresh look at jaguar habitat in the U.S. identifies a much larger area that could support many more of these big cats. This expanded area of the Southwest is 27 times larger than the current designated critical habitat. We hope these findings will inspire renewed cooperation and result in more resident jaguars in the U.S.”
• This study was an effort from a multidisciplinary team of scientists drawing from a wealth of expertise in jaguar ecology, including members of the team that worked on the original habitat analysis for the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) jaguar recovery plan.
• In this study, co-authors took the model previously developed as part of FWS’ endangered jaguar recovery plan process, and applied it to all of Arizona and New Mexico, including new habitat area that was not considered in the recovery plan. Using this FWS model and additional habitat models previously done by others, the co-authors determined an area of habitat approximately the size of Rhode Island in the central mountains of Arizona and New Mexico that was not considered by the FWS in its recovery planning. The authors titled the area the "Central Arizona/New Mexico Recovery Area” (CANRA).
• According to the paper, extending the area of consideration for restoration to include the CANRA and other previously overlooked smaller areas substantially raised the carrying capacity in Arizona and New Mexico, from six to as many as 151 adult jaguars, using modified models from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
• This area of habitat was not considered in the jaguar recovery plan developed by FWS, released in 2019. After 50 years of discussion among FWS and state agencies about whether jaguars were part of the U.S. fauna and their management, jaguars are now federally protected as an endangered species across their range (including the U.S.), and are protected at the state level in Arizona and New Mexico.
• Jaguars are usually associated with tropical habitats such as the Amazon and Central America, but historically were found as far north as the Grand Canyon. The last jaguar north of the Interstate-10 highway in Arizona was killed by a U.S. government hunter in 1964. Over the last two decades a number of male jaguars have been photographed in the mountains south of I-10 and most recently in January 2021.
• Far removed from the border, the CANRA area of habitat offers new opportunities for the U.S. to contribute to the recovery of these wild cats. The expanded area identified by the co-authors includes federal, state, tribal and private lands requiring support and cooperation from all landowners. This information does not assume that jaguars would be restored on lands without landowner cooperation.
• An interactive map of historical jaguar observations in the U.S. and northern Mexico is available to the public at jaguardata.info