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Groups call for the reintroduction of jaguars across Arizona, New Mexico

Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 7:01 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A group of scientists is making a case for the reintroduction of jaguars across Arizona and New Mexico, from the White Mountains to as far north as Flagstaff and as far west as Prescott.

In a recently published paper in the journal Conservation Science and Practice, 16 conservation biologists argue habitat destruction, highways, and existing segments of the border will mean that natural reestablishment of the large cats north of the U.S.-Mexico boundary would be unlikely over the next century without human intervention.

Ultimately, the group hopes to convince the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revisit its 2018 recovery plan for the jaguar, which identified the area south of Interstate 10 in southern Arizona and New Mexico as the only U.S. habitat for the species.

While this effort sounds good in theory, the Arizona Game and Fish Department says breeding these jungle cats in our area isn’t a top priority right now.

“It would cost millions of dollars to do so and the land is only capable of supporting about six jaguars,” said Jim Heffelfinger, a wildlife science coordinator with AZGFD.

In order to build up the population in the mountains of central Arizona and New Mexico, wildlife managers would have to relocate 30-40 jaguars.

That’s twice the number of jaguars known to be living in the northern Sonoran population, which is where we’d have to pull them from because of similar environments.

Heffelfinger said those working to conserve jaguars in Mexico are understandably not supportive of this proposal.

Instead, Heffelfinger believes wildlife managers need to first focus on their obligations to so many species (many still without recovery plans).

“We have 173,000 jaguars distributed from Sonora to Argentina. It seems kind of silly that we’re ignoring some of these species that might just absolutely disappear forever and we’re focusing on trying to get jaguars in more areas or in areas we’d like to have them,” Heffelfinger said.

If groups want to focus on jaguars, Heffelfingers thinks more money should be spent on curbing poaching where jaguars have everything else they need but suffer from high human-caused mortality.

For more information about the paper, click here.

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