Archive for the ‘Media Stories’ Category

Feline Empowered

Friday, November 1st, 2013


By Wendy Sweet, Tucson Lifestyle

Power, strength, beauty and grace: that is the description of the jaguar. These big cats used to roam the Southwestern United States borderlands until they became locally extinct due to hunters and government predator programs in the first half of the 20th century. Poaching and habitat destruction also have played a part in their disappearance. But the Northern Jaguar Project (NJP) is working to bring them back.

“NJP preserves habitat and provides protection for the northernmost breeding population of jaguars on the continent,” explains Diana Hadley, president of NJP. “We prevent poaching of jaguars, and we educate students and cattle growers about the importance of wildlife and keystone species. A keystone species — such as the jaguar — plays a crucial role keeping an ecosystem in balance.”

Headquartered in Tucson, NJP co-manages the 50,000-acre Northern Jaguar Reserve in Mexico with Naturalia, a Mexican nonprofit conservation organization. “Our partnership with Naturalia is crucial to our success,” Hadley relates. “It also is a great example of cross-border cooperation.”

The Northern Jaguar Reserve lies 125 miles south of Douglas, Arizona, in very rugged terrain in the foothills of the Sierra Madre. “It is an exotic and beautiful landscape and very, very remote and unpopulated,” says Hadley. “I once counted 17 mountain ranges at dusk and saw not one single electric light.”

Two jaguar guardians work on the reserve to prevent access and poaching. They also oversee a network of 150 motion-triggered cameras that take photos of whatever wildlife is present. On the NJP website, you can see more than 500 photos of jaguars on the reserve and surrounding ranches, along with photos of mountain lions, bobcats and ocelots. There is plenty of other wildlife, too, including turkeys, deers, javelinas, raccoons and birds. With the elevation on the reserve ranging from 1,500 to about 4,000 feet, it is a region of amazing biodiversity.

To help prevent poaching, Hadley says, “We need to spread the word in the U.S., the way we spread the word in Mexico. We incorporate the neighboring cattle ranchers into our conservation program, called Viviendo con Felinos (Living with Felines), by signing contracts with them in which they agree not to harm any wildlife. They also agree to have the motion-triggered cameras placed on their ranches, and they receive monetary awards for photos that indicate the presence of the area’s four feline species.”

Jaguars are solitary, secretive animals that are highly endangered throughout their entire range. Other than in photos, sightings are extremely rare. “There have been no known attacks by jaguars on humans anywhere in their northern range, ever,” Hadley emphasizes.

A retired land-use historian, Hadley and her ecologist husband Peter Warshall (who passed away this past April) were two of the co-founders of NJP in 2003. “We thought it would be a short-term project,” she notes. Ten years later, she is still very involved as the volunteer president.

“NJP is an efficient, small grassroots group that is making a big difference.” In the Tucson office, volunteer opportunities include sorting and categorizing trip-camera wildlife photos, writing letters and helping with fundraisers.

NJP relies on donations and support from communities, businesses, organizations and individuals; other funding sources include grants from private foundations.

“Donated funds go directly to programs for wildlife protection, landscape restoration, scientific research and education. Funds also go toward land acquisition.”

In the future, “We would like to further expand the reserve and improve the habitat, get designation of Mexican governmental protection at the highest level, increase the number of ranchers involved in the Viviendo con Felinos program, and publicize our message in the U.S. and Mexico,” says Hadley. “We would also like to conduct more scientific research on the reserve, establish more partnerships with other reserves and environmental organizations, and create safe wildlife corridors between Mexico and the U.S.”

To see some remarkable wildlife photos and videos, and to learn more about volunteering or making a donation, click on or phone 623-9653, ext. 5.

Jaguar Project in Sonora Working Hard to Protect These Felines

Monday, October 14th, 2013


By Tony Paniagua, Arizona Public Media

The jaguar is the largest wild cat in the Americas. Residents in Arizona live relatively close to a breeding population of these felines.

They can be found in our neighbor to the south – in the state of Sonora, Mexico. People there are working hard to protect the animal.

The jaguars are living in rugged and isolated territory where they are being protected from hunting or other human activity.

Northern Jaguar Project was established in 2003 in partnership with Naturalia, a Mexican organization based in Mexico City that has an office in Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora.

The group started out by buying the initial ranches for the Northern Jaguar Preserve, which has now grown to 50,000 acres, according to Diana Hadley, president of the Northern Jaguar Project’s board of directors.

“It’s 120 miles south of Douglas…and it is a habitat that is both tropical deciduous forest and Sinaloan thorn scrub…it is really rugged and really hard to get to, which is the reason that the jaguars are still there,” Hadley explained.

José Manuel Pérez is one of the people working with these groups. He is an animal scientist with another group, Cuenca Los Ojos Foundation, which focuses on biological diversity along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We try to restore the corridors for wildlife,” he said. “For jaguars, for big mammals and birds – hummingbirds – and insects.”

The groups are holding a fundraising raffle at the Jane Hamilton Fine Art gallery in Tucson on October 25 to raise money for their work.


Passion with a Purpose

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013


By Monica Surfaro Spigelman, BizTucson

Photos published this summer of a lone adult male jaguar roaming in the Santa Rita Mountains put this endangered species back into the spotlight.

Precious few Panthera onca – or “roaring” jaguars – demand our attention in Southern Arizona.

Yet it is here where a multinational effort is underway to ensure both a sanctuary and a pathway along the U.S.-Mexico borderland that will allow the endangered wild felines to again roam free in their former range in the southwestern United States.

“We cannot only save this species, but we can offer an umbrella of protection to the abundant biodiversity that shares this habitat,” said Diana Hadley, retired director of the Arizona State Museum’s Office of Ethnohistorical Research at the University of Arizona.

The former rancher is now president of the international nonprofit Northern Jaguar Project.

Currently there are dozens of threatened or endangered bird, amphibian and butterfly species that inhabit the Northern Jaguar Reserve. The reserve is believed to be the northernmost nesting site for the military macaw, as well as the southern-most nesting site of the bald eagle – and the only area where these two bird species intermingle, according to the NJP website.

In 2003, 10,000 acres were acquired, followed by the purchase of an adjacent ranch, adding 35,000 acres in 2008 and officially establishing the Northern Jaguar Reserve and a bi-national partnership with Naturalia, Mexico’s respected nonprofit conservation organization.

The jaguar was hunted to near extinction by the mid-1900s, Hadley said. The last kill of a resident female jaguar residing in the Grand Canyon was documented in 1963. Only lone males have been sighted since then. An estimated 80 to 120 jaguars inhabit the isolated zone of the Sonoran Desert in Mexico, approximately 125 miles south of Douglas, Hadley said.

On Oct. 25, Jane Hamilton Fine Art gallery will host the Jaguar Jamboree, a benefit for the Northern Jaguar Project.

Guests can purchase raffle tickets for local artist Barry Sapp’s original acrylic Tigres del Desierto – a painting based on video taken by a remote camera of two jaguars walking together through an arroyo.

Event highlights include jaguar blues music by singer/songerwriter Kevin Pakulis, Sonoran-style appetizers, Bacanora tasting and Mexican ethnic artistic jaguar masks for sale.

The Jaguar Club of Southern Arizona is a Jaguar Jamboree event supporter, as is the Royal Jaguar dealership of Tucson. JCSA president Diana Raymond said, “We’ll have a 50/50 raffle in support of the Northern Jaguar Project during our Concours D’Elegance event that weekend. Our members also are encouraged to attend and support the Jamboree.”

Ríos en El Bronco: Rivers in Rough Country

Monday, December 31st, 2012


By Sky Jacobs, Terra

View the orginal article and its stunning photography here.

Our adventures into the river canyons of eastern Sonora began in the early 2000s after spending several years working throughout the bronco (rough) state of Sonora, México. My best friend was an avian biologist working in Sonora, and I had always been intrigued by birds, natural history, and landscape exploration.

Our trips were driven by biological interest, deeply embedded wilderness exploration genes, and our desire to fill information gaps about the Sonoran countryside and its biota.

Anyone who has explored rural Sonora by road knows it is an exercise in patience—and withstanding a lot of jarring.

Visiting locations few scientists have been is sometimes challenging, as roads are few and often private. Backpacking has a place, but it is difficult to locate water in many areas, distances are great, and the ability to stay out for extended periods is limited.

The answer to this dilemma had been there the whole time—the rivers of Sonora. Since Sonora is battered by relentless sunshine there aren’t many rivers, but the rivers that are large enough to be runnable by raft are beautiful, biologically interesting, and surprisingly roadless and remote.

When we searched for information and guidance on running rivers in Sonora, we were surprised to find that there didn’t seem to be anyone who had floated them before.

We finally heard of two people who had run a few stretches, but couldn’t get many helpful details. Quite a few people told us that we were crazy. By our first boat trip on the upper Río Yaqui in 2003, we still knew next to nothing about the rivers and what surprises they might hold.

Looking back at that initial excursion it was like a gringo’s first time stepping across the border in Nogales. We barely got our feet wet. It was a short stretch of the Rio Yaqui that, while remote, was relatively tame.

The next monsoon season in 2004 we floated in a two-person inflatable kayak down the Río Bavispe from Granados to the Río Yaqui and then to Sahuaripa. This trip was more bold and certainly an eye-opener. Giant tropical figs and deep remote side canyons greeted us. We encountered fresh jaguar tracks in the mud, neotropical river otters, and a good list of flora and fauna at the northern ends of their range.

And there were no other humans . . .

On this trip we had no clue what was around each bend—impassable rapids, narco drug fields, exciting rare plants and birds. We found all of these things, but more importantly we found a strong and long-term connection to this amazing area.

Eastern Sonora is a tortured landscape of steep, rugged terrain. Deep canyons drain the high Sierra Madre to the east. Spring and early summer are brutally dry, hot, and sunny. There are a few roads and even fewer people.

Here in these deep canyons the Neotropics reach their northernmost extent and transition to more temperate environments. All of this is a mere 200 miles from Tucson, Arizona.

During the summer monsoon season this normally grey and leafless landscape of Sinaloan thornscrub transforms into a lush and green short-tree forest full of life. Fresh water flows everywhere. Normally stagnant or even dry rivers turn into powerful brown torrents carrying sediment, tree trunks, and the occasional rafter, toward the sea.

The Río Yaqui is the largest watershed in northwest México and is formed by two forks—the Ríos Aros and Bavispe. The Aros drains almost the entire northern Sierra Madre including areas far into Chihuahua. The Río Bavispe drains the rest of the northern Sierra Madre, parts of northeastern Sonora, and even part of Arizona.

These mighty watersheds come together in the middle of nowhere, which is exactly where we wanted to be.

Floating down the Bavispe in 2004 we had a bit of a shock when we hit the Río Aros. It was huge. It was much bigger than we anticipated and made the Bavispe look like a small backwater.

As we looked up the Aros and its magnificent canyon, our longing to explore its secrets embedded itself. The Aros promised to be even wilder.

We knew the area was nearly devoid of human settlements until one reached the other side of the Sierra Madre spine in Chihuahua. That is a lot of wild, unexplored country!

That moment was the inspiration for what would be four more boating expeditions between 2005 and 2012 to thoroughly explore the Río Aros and its tributaries.

In 2005 we organized a large expedition with many full-sized rafts and a cadre of biologists with various specialties. This expedition helped to get the area recognized as an important biological region, and data we collected were used by Mexican biologists and resource managers to kill a dam proposal on the Aros shortly thereafter.

The importance of the area for wildlife has caught the attention of other biologists and conservationists. In 2003 the Northern Jaguar Project (NJP) purchased a 10,000-acre ranch near the Aros-Bavispe confluence in hopes of helping to protect habitat for breeding jaguars that inhabit the area. That reserve has grown to over 50,000 acres and is protecting breeding jaguars and other wildlife in the region. NJP has also funded important research projects and has been instrumental in gaining recognition for the area in both the U.S. and México. All of our later rafting and overland expeditions would not have happened without their support.

The following photos are from our latest expedition in mid-July of 2012. This trip included two days in the car and nine days on the river. We were four biologists and two support crew floating on two inflatable kayaks and two full-size inflatable catamarans.

We successfully documented a high diversity of plants and wildlife and enjoyed scenery on par with the best in the world.

The trip had many unplanned adventures, but thankfully these always make the best memories.

For more images and information about the expedition, visit

The Northern Jaguar Project is a U.S.-based nonprofit partnering with Mexican counterparts to protect the northernmost breeding population of the western hemisphere’s largest cat. For information:

Eco Rockstars

Friday, October 19th, 2012


By Andrew Currie, Origin Magazine

Carmina Gutiérrez + Miguel Gómez. Sonora. Mexico.
Jaguar Guardians. Northern Jaguar Project + Naturalia

Revered for its strength, beauty, and grace, the jaguar is an emblem of species conservation in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Much of the work to protect and provide refuge for this northernmost jaguar population lies with its guardians, Carmina Gutiérrez and Miguel Gómez. They mirror the strength and grace of the jaguars they protect. This engaging duo has taken the northern jaguar under their wing, working tirelessly to protect these endangered cats and ensure their safe haven. Both know where the jaguars roam and diligently follow their tracks throughout the remote, rugged landscape of the 50,000 acre Northern Jaguar Reserve. A deep passion for wilderness and wildlife carries Carmina and Miguel always forward.

A Sampling of Conservation Efforts in Northwest Mexico

Monday, April 30th, 2012




By Ray Ring, Tony Davis and Talli Nauman, High Country News

#6  The more than 50,000-acre Northern Jaguar Reserve is another joint venture of Mexican and U.S. groups, run by Naturalia and the Tucson-based Northern Jaguar Project. They’ve created the reserve by buying four ranches since 2003. It includes deep canyons and a good stretch of Río Aros – habitat for fish and turtles, neotropical river otters, the southernmost-nesting bald eagles in North America, and, of course, jaguars. Remote cameras have documented that up to 12 jaguars live on the reserve – the northernmost breeding population – and it’s a likely source of the jaguars that occasionally wander into Arizona. Because ranchers have been known to kill jaguars to protect their cattle, the Northern Jaguar Project has also installed cameras on nearby ranches, and provided those ranchers with an incentive: Every time a camera photographs a jaguar on a ranch, the group pays the rancher 5,000 pesos. Photos documenting cougars, ocelots and bobcats on the ranches earn smaller payments. Also, with the help of Raul Valdez, an ecology professor at New Mexico State University, in 2003, 11 ranches near the reserve banded together to form an UMA that sells trophy deer hunts; the earnings – more than $20,000 per year – more than compensate for cattle lost to predators. Thus the ranchers have an incentive to maintain deer herds, and the pressure for killing predators has eased, Valdez reports. Defenders of Wildlife’s Tucson office is also involved; as part of a broader jaguar ecological study, Defenders is collaborating with Mexican biologist Carlos López González on a project in which scat-sniffing dogs will course the Sonoran landscape starting as soon as this summer, searching for jaguars and jaguar corridors.

Conserving Cats

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Groups in Mexico and the U.S. join forces to create an innovative jaguar-protection reserve

By A. Greene, Tucson Weekly

Around 150 years ago, jaguars thrived in much of the southern United States—ranging as far east as Louisiana.

However, the cats were hunted because they killed livestock, and for their skins. Today, they’re virtually extinct in the United States, though a small number of them remain in Mexico.

In northern Sonora, there is now a 45,000-acre reserve set aside for the remaining jaguar population—and that reserve represents a lot more than just wildlife conservation.

It all started in the late 1990s with a man named Carlos López González, a large-mammal biologist who specialized in jaguars. López González had heard of a region known to be the home of the northernmost population of jaguars, and he traveled to the area to search for tracks and to speak with local ranchers.

“The way I approached them was more in the sense of whether they had any problems with depredation of livestock,” said López González. “They wouldn’t feel threatened by my presence; they would feel that I was concerned about their problems, which I was.”

By talking to the ranchers in this way, he was able to open a lot of doors.

After his initial research, López González brought his findings to a program based in Mexico City called Naturalia, whose mission is to protect endangered species and environments in Mexico.

After hearing from López González, Naturalia staff members set out to procure that land for a reserve.

“Once this region had been identified, we started doing fundraising … to buy a 10,000 acre property,” said Juan Carlos Bravo, a biologist with Naturalia. “At the time we were doing this, a group of very enthusiastic U.S. citizens created the Northern Jaguar Project for the same purpose, so we (created) an immediate and very favorable partnership.”

The collaboration allowed for the purchase of a much larger slice of land in January 2008. That land became the Northern Jaguar Reserve.

The cats on the reserve are monitored in various ways, including via motion-sensor cameras. They’re placed across the reserve and are checked on a regular basis. Every time an animal walks by a camera, a picture is snapped.

Of course, the pictures are not always of jaguars. The reserve is home to numerous other mammals, amphibians, birds, bugs and plants. In fact, the Northern Jaguar Reserve is quite a diverse place, home to more than 185 different species of terrestrial vertebrates.

Since the beginning, reserve officials have made an effort to work with ranchers living in the area. Naturalia, supported by the Northern Jaguar Project, also reaches out to students in the region. The groups teach young students about the reserve and about the importance of protecting biodiversity and ecosystems.

A related program, the Feline Photo Project, compensates ranchers for photos of felines taken on their property.

To take part in the program, ranchers must sign an agreement promising not to harm any protected species. Though a photograph of a jaguar is best, all photographs of felines in the area earn a cash prize.

“At first, most of (the ranchers) were hesitant, but we had enough of them to jumpstart the project … and it’s been building momentum,” said Bravo. “Right now, there’s a waiting list of ranchers who want to incorporate into the program.”

Thanks to the Feline Photo Project, many of the participating landowners are beginning to understand the importance of wildlife conservation, and have become much more receptive to the idea.

The programs have also worked with ranchers close to the reserve to develop and implement strategies to reduce livestock predation.

“What we’ve done is put up fences to divide pastures in such a way that (ranchers) can keep vulnerable animals closer to their house,” said Bravo.

Recently, the Northern Jaguar Project applied for a Disney Friends for Change grant on behalf of both groups, which involved a contest wherein the group competed for votes online. The project was awarded second place, earning $50,000.

According to Megan “Turtle” Southern, coordinator at the Northern Jaguar Project, the money will go toward the Northern Jaguar Project’s Growing the Jaguar Garden program, which provides kids living in the area with a chance to learn about and participate in habitat restoration on the reserve.

Despite the current environment of political strife, Naturalia and the Northern Jaguar Project have managed to show the power of good communication. This binational collaboration has not only flourished, but has led to tremendous success regarding conservation efforts in the Southwest.

Bravo said that the collaboration is expanding to include yet other ambitious environmental projects, like water-harvesting and soil recovery.

“We’ve been able to preserve a joint heritage, and it makes it, in a sense, unique, that … there’s joint decision-making and joint fundraising and joint everything,” said Naturalia’s Bravo. “I am personally grateful for all the assistance that we’ve had from our partner, Northern Jaguar Project, and so much that the U.S. citizens have done. … It brings us closer together.”

Path of the Jaguar

Sunday, March 1st, 2009


If forward-looking conservationists prevail, this wanderer will live on

By Mel White, National Geographic magazine

At dusk one evening, deep in a Costa Rican forest, a young male jaguar rises from his sleep, stretches, and silently but determinedly leaves forever the place where he was born.

There’s shelter here, and plenty of brocket deer, peccaries, and agoutis for food. He has sensed, too, the presence of females with which he might mate. But there’s also a mature male jaguar that claims the forest – and the females. The older cat will tolerate no rivals. The breeze-blown scent of the young male’s mother, so comforting to him when he was a cub, no longer binds him to his home. So he goes.

But the wanderer has chosen the wrong direction. In just a few miles he reaches the edge of the forest; beyond lies a coffee plantation. Pushed by instinct and necessity, he keeps moving, staying in the trees along fences and streams. Soon, though, shelter consists only of scattered patches of shrubs and a few trees, where he can find nothing to eat. He’s now in a land of cattle ranches, and one night his hunger and the smell of a newborn calf overcome his reluctance to cross open areas. Creeping close before a final rush, he instantly kills the calf with one snap of his powerful jaws.

The next day the rancher finds the remains and the telltale tracks of a jaguar. He calls some of his neighbors and gathers a pack of dogs. The hunters find the young male, but they’re armed only with shotguns; anxious, they shoot from too great a distance. The jaguar’s massively thick skull protects him from death, but the pellets blind him in one eye and shatter his left foreleg.

Crippled now, unable to find his normal prey in the scrubby forest, let alone stalk and kill it, he’s driven by hunger to easier meals. He kills another calf on an adjacent ranch, and then a dog on the outskirts of a nearby town. This time, though, he lingers too long. Attracted by the dog’s howls, a group of villagers tree him and, though it takes many blasts, kill him. Jaguars, they say, are nothing but cattle killers, dog killers. They are vermin. They should be shot on sight, anytime, anywhere.

This sad story has been played out thousands of times throughout the jaguar’s homeland, stretching from Mexico (and formerly the United States) to Argentina. In recent decades it’s happened with even greater frequency, as ranching, farming, and development have eaten up half the big cat’s prime habitat, and as humans have decimated its natural prey in many areas of remaining forest.

Alan Rabinowitz envisions a different ending to the story. He imagines that the young jaguar, when he leaves his birthplace, will pass unseen by humans through a near-continuous corridor of sheltering vegetation. Within a couple of days he’ll find a small tract of forest harboring enough prey for him to stop and rest a day or two before resuming his trek. Eventually he’ll reach a national park or wildlife preserve where he’ll find a home, room to roam, plenty of prey, females looking for a mate.

Rabinowitz is the world’s leading jaguar expert, and he has begun to realize his dream of creating a vast network of interconnected corridors and refuges extending from the U.S.-Mexico border into South America. It is known as Paseo del Jaguar – Path of the Jaguar. Rabinowitz considers such a network the best hope for keeping this great New World cat from joining lions and tigers on the endangered species list.

Rabinowitz began his work with the Wildlife Conservation Society and now heads the Panthera Foundation, a conservation group dedicated to protecting the world’s 36 species of wild cats. The foundation’s current work represents a radical change in Rabinowitz’s conservation philosophy from just a decade ago. In the 1990s, having censused jaguars across their range, Rabinowitz and other specialists identified dozens of what they called jaguar conservation units (JCUs): large areas with perhaps 50 jaguars, where the local population was either stable or increasing. At the heart of most of the JCUs were existing parks or other protected areas, which Rabinowitz hoped to expand and secure with surrounding buffer zones. “I felt that the best thing we could hope to do was to lock up these great populations in these fragmented areas,” he said.

Within a few years, though, the new science of DNA fingerprinting – studying genetic material to determine family and species relationships – revealed an amazing fact: The jaguar is the only large, wide-ranging carnivore in the world with no subspecies. Simply put, this means that for millennia jaguars have been mingling their genes throughout their entire range, so that individuals in northern Mexico are identical to those in southern Brazil. For that to be true, some of the cats must wander regularly and widely between populations.

Rabinowitz and his colleagues went back to their data to see whether the preserves could still be linked with habitat adequate to support a traveling jaguar. “Lo and behold,” Rabinowitz said, “while good jaguar habitat, where the cats can live and breed, has decreased by 50 percent since the 1900s, habitat a jaguar can use to travel through has decreased only by 16 percent. Most of it is intact and contiguous. These places are like little oases – very small patches that jaguars will come to, use a while, and then leave. We were writing these places off because they’re not habitat where a permanent jaguar population can live. Now they’re turning out to be crucial.”

Rabinowitz hopes to convince national governments throughout the jaguar’s range to maintain this web of habitat through enlightened land-use planning, such as choosing noncritical areas for major developments and road construction. “We’re not going to ask them to throw people off their land or to make new national parks,” he said. The habitat matrix could encompass woodlands used for a variety of human activities from timber harvest to citrus plantations. Studies have shown that areas smaller than one and a half square miles can serve as temporary, one- or two-day homes – stepping-stones – for wandering jaguars.

While the habitat making up the proposed network is mostly intact for now, prompt conservation action will be needed to protect it, especially in certain areas of Central America and Colombia, where some jaguar travel paths already are critically tenuous. By studying satellite photographs and airplane surveys, and walking sections of the proposed corridor to follow up on reports from local people, Rabinowitz and his team can identify the segments most in need of protection. He then can go to government decision-makers with hard scientific data, he said. “Our first challenge is looking at corridors where there’s just a single tendril. We’ve got to lock up these areas.”

Diana Hadley of the Arizona-based Northern Jaguar Project works to protect the northernmost jaguar population in Mexico, with the long-term goal of seeing the species return to the United States. Hadley said the project and its Mexican partners “fully support” Paseo del Jaguar. “If these magnificent animals are ever to reoccupy appropriate habitat north of the border,” she said, “the stepping-stones in the jaguar corridor are essential.” Paseo del Jaguar ranks with the world’s most ambitious conservation programs, and realizing it will take many years. Rabinowitz is focusing first on Mexico and Central America, where officials in all eight countries have approved the project. Costa Rica has already incorporated protection of the corridor into laws regulating development.

Later he’ll tackle South America, where landscapes and political situations are more diverse and challenging. Rabinowitz is encouraged, though, by his audiences’ emotional response when he talks about jaguars – a response based on the animal’s enduring aura of beauty, strength, and mystery. Indigenous peoples around Mexico’s central plateau, and the Maya, farther south, incorporated the jaguar into their art and mythology. Today even mobile-phone-carrying government ministers sitting in urban offices feel what Rabinowitz calls “a powerful cultural thread binding them to their ancestors. Nobody can say that the jaguar is not part of their own heritage,” he said. “What better unifying symbol can there be than the jaguar?”

Jaguars in Northwestern Mexico Find Safe Haven in New Reserve

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008


But U.S. Government Erects a Permanent Obstacle to their Survival

By Eco-Exchange

In northwestern Mexico, the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts are home to a collage of transitional ecosystems including desert thorn scrub, high-elevation oak woodlands, and the northern-most occurrence of tropical deciduous forests. This unique intersection of ecosystems provides habitat to a number of rare species including the endangered Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), the Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida), and the American black bear (Ursus americanus).

Another endangered and perhaps unexpected species also roams this rugged terrain – the jaguar (Panthera onca). The species once claimed a territory stretching from South America to the southern United States, but conflicts with humans – including habitat fragmentation and poaching – have nearly eliminated them from their northern range. An estimated population of 80 to 120 jaguars remains in the Sonoran desert. Tragically, within the last few years, at least 24 jaguars, representing as much as one-quarter of this fragile population, have been killed by cattle ranchers because of livestock predation.

To safeguard jaguars in Mexico and recover the species in the southwestern United States, a binational coalition comprised of the U.S.-based NGOs Northern Jaguar Project and Defenders of Wildlife and the Mexican NGO Naturalia A.C. have joined forces to implement a suite of creative solutions including land protection, environmental education, and conservation incentive programs.

Their collaboration began in 2003, when the partnership identified a 45,000-acre (18,220-hectare) complex of Sonoran cattle ranches that had evidence of consistent jaguar reproduction, and the highest number of jaguar mortalities from poaching. The group raised funds to purchase a 10,000-acre (4,050-hectare) section of the complex, and created the Rancho Los Pavos Jaguar Sanctuary, located just south of the confluence of the Aros, Yaqui, and Bavispe Rivers. Once the sanctuary was established, the NGOs began education, research and conservation efforts, as well as raising the additional funds needed to acquire the remaining 35,000 acres (14,170 hectares) of ranch lands.

The partnership created an innovative photo-survey contest that provides ranchers with financial incentives to let jaguars roam their lands, while simultaneously collecting valuable information on jaguar and other wildlife species ecology. In return for signing a contract which stipulates that they will not kill any wildlife, participating ranchers are awarded between $50 and $500 for photos of jaguars, cougars (Puma concolor), ocelots (Leopardus pardalis), and bobcats (Lynx rufus) captured on their land.

Craig Miller, vice-president of the Northern Jaguar Project and southwest representative of Defenders of Wildlife, explains that the camera contest was created as an alternative to a formal direct compensation program for livestock loss to jaguars. He notes, “We determined after talking to ranches and examining the situation that a traditional compensation program wouldn’t be effective, and so we met with area ranches and collectively created the camera contest concept. It has created positive relationships with participating ranchers, has given researchers access to the ranch lands, and has helped to change local perspectives about the value of wildlife.”

The partnership has also hired two Jaguar Guardians, who conduct field research to determine the size of the jaguar population, gauge their habitat needs, and protect important dispersal corridors and breeding areas. The guardians also patrol the reserve to prevent poaching and conduct educational programs to raise local support for jaguar conservation. Miller believes that the program has been successful and says that “Because the guardians have been a consistent presence for conservation in the community and on the reserve, conservation goals have been shared with dozens of community members.”

To raise the additional funds needed to purchase the remaining 35,000 acres, the partnership teamed with a project team from the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders program, which trains mid-level wildlife conservation professionals in developing conservation campaign strategies, to develop an innovative “Save A Spot” campaign, where members of the general public were able to donate $49 and secure one “spot” of jaguar habitat.

With contributions from more than 600 individual donors and foundations, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, the land purchase was finalized and the 45,000 acre (18,220 hectare) Northern Jaguar Reserve was formed in January, 2008. “This land is perfectly suited to support North America’s largest wild cat,” emphasizes Oscar Moctezuma, director of Naturalia. “With lengthy frontage on the Aros River, a single, often-impassable road, and deep canyons with deer and other prey, the reserve supports the best possible habitat for northern jaguars.” The reserve is also important overwintering habitat for Neotropical migratory birds and represents the northernmost region in the Americas where the jaguar, cougar, ocelot and bobcat are known to interact.

The project is now focusing on restoration and monitoring activities, as well as developing a management plan for the reserve. The camera contest is now in its second year, and the partnership is going to utilize the images it captures to complement research on the reserve and throughout the region. Miller explains, “It is expanding beyond a compensation tool to become a more scientifically vigorous research tool used to guide regional conservation activities.” The partnership is compiling an inventory of species present on the reserve, and has recorded 23 reptiles and amphibians, 80 migratory and resident birds, 34 insects, and 31 mammals, with more than 20 of them having protection under Mexican laws.

Since the partnership began its efforts, all wildlife poaching has ceased on the ranches participating in the camera contest, and on the Northern Jaguar Reserve. Yet, despite these huge successes in Mexico, efforts to conserve the northern jaguar in the United States have faced serious recent setbacks. In February of 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that it would not draft a formal recovery plan for the jaguar in the southwestern U.S., claiming that the species is biologically a “foreign” species and therefore does not qualify for U.S. recovery efforts.

In response to the government’s decision, Defenders of Wildlife is suing the FWS because the agency has not responded to repeated requests from scientists that it develop a recovery plan for the species, as required by law. Miller notes, “In the United States, we have some of the most effective conservation tools available in the form of the endangered species act, funding, protected lands, and large-scale conservation initiatives. With these tools, we can help jaguars where they have suffered their most significant losses, but the refusal to develop a recovery plan threatens to unravel that potential success and benefit.”

In addition, the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, intended to limit illegal immigration into the U.S., has presented a permanent obstacle to the recovery of the jaguar in the Unites States, by separating the cats from the population in Mexico and limiting their opportunities to reproduce and expand their territories. Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club are filing a constitutional challenge with the U.S. Supreme Court to block the wall’s construction. Miller emphasizes, “There are better ways to balance perceived homeland security needs with the needs and conservation of wildlife species. I’m hopeful that the wall won’t be constructed in its entirety and the most biologically sensitive areas will be preserved through more innovative solutions.”

Save the Jaguar

Saturday, March 8th, 2008

Editorial by Arizona Republic

Consider nature, science and politics.

The beauty of nature is enhanced only by its gee-whiz factor. For example, in addition to being drop-dead gorgeous, each jaguar has a unique pattern of spots.

Scientists turn that uniqueness into valuable data. For example, biologists who use remote-sensor cameras to document jaguar visits to southern Arizona can identify individual animals by the pattern of their spots. They know jaguars still prowl a small part of their historic range in Arizona.

Politics should provide a way to protect and enhance those jaguar populations. After all, the Endangered Species Act exists because Americans care about conservation.

But politics can block wildlife-management goals for unscientific reasons. For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s announcement that it will not pursue a recovery plan for the jaguar looks more like an easy way out than a sound scientific decision.

Two conservation groups, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity are suing to challenge that decision. Representatives of these groups say the law requires the federal government to prepare recovery plans for endangered species like the jaguar.

These remarkable cats, which used to range from South America to the Grand Canyon, became endangered after decades of being shot on sight by those who considered them either trophies or pests. A breeding population of 80 to 100 jaguars lives in Mexico, about 135 miles south of Douglas, says Bill Van Pelt, biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Only a few cats remain in Arizona, including one that was first photographed by remote-sensor camera in 1996. Biologists have been able to recognize him over the years because of the pattern of his spots.

Craig Miller, vice president of the Northern Jaguar Project, says too little research has been done to know exactly how many jaguars are in Arizona or where they are. The process of writing a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery plan would provide that information.

The American Society of Mammalogists calls jaguar habitats in Arizona and New Mexico “vital to the long-term resilience and survival of the species.”

Here’s the political rub. If jaguars are going to re-establish themselves in Arizona and New Mexico, they need what scientists call “habitat connectivity.” That means the jaguars have to be able to cross the border, and that means plans for a border fence would complicate any recovery plan.

It’s politically easier for Fish and Wildlife not to put itself in direct conflict with the Department of Homeland Security. Yet Miller says there are solutions that could provide both access to habitat for jaguars and border security. Seeking those solutions is worth the effort.

Nevertheless, Fish and Wildlife decided not to try. One reason cited was the fact that much of the jaguar population is in Mexico. This is unconvincing.

The entire population of endangered Mexican wolves lived in Mexico when the recovery effort for that animal began. Craig says there are many examples of binational recovery efforts.

There are impressive components of jaguar conservation on which to build. A recently established 45,000-acre jaguar reserve in the heart of Mexico’s northernmost population of jaguars was a joint effort by the U.S.-based Northern Jaguar Project and the Mexican conservation group, Naturalia.

A Jaguar Conservation Team that includes state, federal and individual representatives has been in place since 1997.What’s lacking is a major push to do the necessary research, develop a recovery plan and help coordinate the ongoing efforts. Fish and Wildlife has the infrastructure, the clout and the expertise to do that. It has a legal mandate to do it.

The agency should not let politics get in the way of finding out the best way to help jaguars return from the edge of extinction and remain part of our natural heritage.