When most hunters think of Arizona they think of giant, bugling elk, mule deer, and desert bighorn rams. However, recent confirmation from the scientific community suggests hunters should keep their eyes peeled for a cat generally found south of the border, the jaguar.
After a thorough analysis by multiple Arizona Game and Fish biologists and external experts from the scientific community, the consensus is that last week’s trail camera photo depicts a jaguar. The photo was captured in late September by a hunter’s trail camera southeast of Tucson, but identification of the species was more difficult because the photo shows only the tail and a small portion of a hind quarter of the animal.
“Analysis of the spot pattern on the tail as well as the animal’s size when compared to the surrounding vegetation and to other animals led us to believe the photo showed a jaguar. Without biasing the results by announcing our in-house conclusions, we asked others that work with large cat conservation to weigh in because of the limited information the photo provided,” said Game and Fish Nongame Branch Chief Eric Gardner.
Sportsmen are an important resource for biologists to learn more about large carnivores, especially elusive cats like the jaguar and ocelot. Four of the last five confirmed jaguar sightings in Arizona have been reported by hunters, who all took responsible action to document the animal and report it to Game and Fish. Sportsmen also provided Game and Fish with two sets of trail camera photos of an ocelot in the Huachuca Mountains in 2012. These hunters have provided biologists with critical information that may not otherwise be known, information that will help increase the understanding of these species’ existence in the borderland area.
Jaguars have been protected outside of the United States under the Endangered Species Act since 1973. That protection was extended to jaguars within the U.S. in 1997, the year after their presence in the Arizona and New Mexico borderlands was confirmed.
Jaguars once ranged from southern South America through Central America and Mexico and into the southern United States. It is believed that southern Arizona is the most northern part of the range for a population of jaguars living in Sonora, Mexico and that the United States contains less than one percent of the jaguars’ total habitat.
Jaguars are protected by the Endangered Species Act and should be left alone. The department asks anyone that encounters a cat believed to be a jaguar or ocelot to report the sighting along with photos (if available) to the department or through the Operation Game Thief hotline at (800) 352-0700.