One of the most exotic big cats on the planet used to be more prevalent in the United States than you may realize.
Though generally restricted to South and Central America these days, jaguars are recovering throughout Mexico as well. Historically, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas were once a part of their native range too.
There are even historic reports of jaguars being spotted in parts of Louisiana and California as well.
Jaguars are the largest big cat in the world outside of lions and tigers. Capable of adapting to both rainforests and dry grassland environments, the cats are moving closer and closer to re-expanding into the U.S.
By the mid 1900s the species was completed extirpated from the U.S. due to habitat loss and federal predator control programs aimed at reducing livestock losses. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USWFS) still recognizes and monitors the big cats as a native species though.
The USFWS is also one of the leading jaguar conservation organizations in the world. In recent years, their International Affairs Program has been at the forefront of supporting jaguar conservation efforts throughout their range in Mexico, Central America, and South America. In the past four years alone, they have supported 23 projects in ten countries with over $1 million in funding.
As the species recovers back into northern Mexico, jaguars have already been spotted at least occasionally crossing the border into America.
Trail cam footage from Arizona captured footage of a leopard wandering through the brush on American soil in 2016.
In 2018 the USFWS put together an official jaguar recovery plan which focused on areas in New Mexico and Arizona that would be potentially suitable due to large chunks of interconnected jaguar habitat. The plan did not outline any plans for proactively reintroducing the cats.
The most recent study took things a step further, and instead of focusing only on habitat availability but also on prey availability. A sustainable jaguar population would need be founded on a stable food source. Research shows that the area selected for potential jaguar recovery is fortunately home to an abundance of potential jaguar prey.
According to Field and Stream, Arizona currently has an estimated population of 85,000 Coues deer, 105,000 mule deer, and 30,000 elk, while New Mexico has up to 15,000 Coues deer, 100,000 mule deer, and 106,000 elk. Javelina and other intermediate sized mammals are also abundant in the area.
Far more research would need to be conducted before a targeted jaguar reintroduction in the U.S. would ever be seriously considered, but this projects is a step in the right direction and the researchers also contend that a resident jaguar population would increase tourism, improve ecological balance, and restore an essential part of North America’s cultural and natural heritage.
The project also notes the potentially negative economic ramifications of jaguars on ranchers in the area and proposes addressing this with direct government compensation for killed livestock like with other species could be a solution.
You have to respect an animal with such a stylish fur pattern and such magnificent hunting skills.