In February of this year, Conservation CATalyst and the Center for Biological Diversity created a media firestorm when they released a video of El Jefe: the only known jaguar (Panthera onca) in the United States. The footage went viral, as many people were stunned to learn that a wild jaguar inhabited the US. They were equally shocked to learn that a foreign mining company was planning to build an enormous open-pit copper mine in the middle of El Jefe’s territory – which is supposed to be protected as jaguar critical habitat. Now El Jefe is getting even more publicity, since the cover story of the October 2016 edition of the Smithsonian magazine is titled The Return of the Great American Jaguar.
This article is far too rich and detailed for me to adequately summarize here. It largely focuses on the work of Chris Bugbee, Conservation CATalyst’s Senior Researcher. It follows him as he checks camera traps in southern Arizona, and explains how he became so involved in jaguar conservation in the Southwest borderlands. It also documents Chris’ discovery of the remains of a black bear (Ursus americanus) that had been killed and eaten by El Jefe: the first recorded instance of a jaguar predating on that species. But the article, created by author Richard Grant and photographer Bill Hatcher, contains some disturbing information as well.
The Return of the Great American Jaguar raises some questions about the agencies that are supposedly responsible for protecting jaguars, especially the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Even though USFWS scientists concluded that the proposed Rosemont Mine would impact 12 endangered and threatened species, the agency recently declared that the project would comply with the Endangered Species Act. They also do not seem worried about the fact that the mine would be located within federally protected jaguar critical habitat. Equally worrying is the finding that the USFWS has not ruled against a single development project that it has reviewed in the past 7 years. That amounts to over 6,000 cases. Luckily the Los Angeles division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has recently recommended that a key permit for the Rosemont Mine be denied, although the fight is far from over.
Be sure to read the Smithsonian magazine’s original article. It contains a wealth of information about El Jefe, Conservation CATalyst, and the return of the American jaguar.