By now it is common knowledge that Donald Trump wants to build a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. This would cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars, and experts say it would not stop people from illegally crossing the border (Owens, 2017; Center for Biological Diversity, 2017). What it would do is dismantle Southwest ecosystems – and put a stop to jaguar recovery in the United States.
Conservation organizations have been weighing in on Trump’s wall, and their assessments are hardly supportive. Two of them, Panthera and the Center for Biological Diversity, have stressed its harmful effects on wild felids (cats). They emphasized that Trump’s wall would sever animals’ travel routes, stranding them on either side of the border. As both groups point out, this would end any hope for jaguar recovery in the U.S.
I have written extensively about the jaguar’s extirpation and reemergence in the United States. In short, heavy persecution by European Americans led to the great cat’s extinction north of the border. Then, a series of sightings in the late 1990s confirmed that jaguars were returning. As far as anyone can tell, all of these individuals have been dispersing males from the Mexican state of Sonora. While this is encouraging, true recovery is still a long way off. No female jaguars have been documented in the U.S. since 1963, and they typically do not disperse as far as males.
Therefore, jaguar recovery depends on keeping the border open for wildlife. Important conservation work is being conducted in Sonora, which might lead to an increase in the northernmost breeding population of jaguars. Eventually female jaguars may begin entering the U.S., but not if there is a wall in the way.
I understand that border security is a serious concern, but Trump’s wall is not the answer. It would be an immense burden on U.S. taxpayers, would fail to solve the problem, and would harm rare Southwest wildlife. It is imperative that we do not allow our short-term fears to override the long-term health of our ecosystems. What our country needs right now is healing: not fragmentation. If we want to usher in the recovery of the most magnificent animal in the Western hemisphere, then border security must allow for natural wildlife movements.