Conservation Group Petitions for Jaguar Reintroductions

A jaguar resting on a rock.
Jaguar_Tigre_03 by miguelangel0, found on Flickr. CC BY-ND 2.0

You know something important happened if I’m posting for the first time in 10,000 years.

Remember how, back in April, I wrote that no one was seriously talking about reintroducing jaguars (Panthera onca) to the United States? Well, that statement is now false: the Center for Biological Diversity just petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce jaguars to the U.S.

As the Center’s Michael Robinson explains in the press release, having a healthy jaguar population in the U.S. is important for ecological reasons. Ecosystems in the Southwestern U.S. evolved with jaguars, and returning the Western Hemisphere’s largest cat to its former range could restore crucial ecosystem functions (top predators often serve as “keystone species“).

Expanding the jaguar’s range would also help to relieve the genetic isolation of jaguar populations in northwestern Mexico, and it would give jaguars more opportunities to adapt to climate change.

There are records (some more credible than others) of jaguar encounters from California to the Carolinas. Despite this large, potential former range, the Center is asking for relatively modest reintroductions. They would like to see jaguars reintroduced to the Gila National Forest in New Mexico, and they want critical habitat designated for jaguar reintroductions in New Mexico and Arizona.

Even though I used the term “modest” above, keep in mind that reintroducing any jaguars is likely to be a difficult task. The Center’s press release cites a successful case of jaguar reintroductions in Argentina, which might provide a good example to follow.

I expect the Center’s petition will set off a legal battle, and the courts will ultimately decide what happens with jaguar reintroductions. Even if the courts side with the Center, though, it’s not like a herd of jaguars will show up overnight. Reintroducing jaguars to the U.S. would involve a lengthy planning process, which is included in the Center’s petition.

For more information, please read the Center for Biological Diversity’s press release.

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