November 1, 2007
Rare jaguar sightings have sparked a debate about how to ensure the cats’ survival in the American West
By Jeremy Kahn, Smithsonian magazine
Imperial saguaro cactuses embrace the Arizona sky with thorn-studded limbs, presiding over a realm of spiny ocotillos, prickly pear, cat’s-claw and all manner of skin-shredding brush. Halfway up a rock-strewn trail, a young wildlife biologist named Emil McCain kneels next to a metal box affixed to a gnarled oak. The box was designed to thwart the errant curiosity of wandering bears, but McCain has found it stands up equally well to wandering humans. The box houses a digital camera equipped with a heat and motion sensor that snaps photographs of whatever moves on the trail; the camera has taken 26 shots since McCain last checked it a month ago. Viewing them, he scrolls through a veritable catalog of local wildlife: jack rabbit, white-tailed deer, rock squirrel, javelina (a sort of wild boar), coyote, bobcat, a woman in hiking boots. Suddenly, he looks up, an impish grin spreading across his face. “Hey, you guys, you wanna see a jaguar?”
The jaguar is not supposed to be here. Not in the United States. Not in 2007. And certainly not in the desert thorn scrub that wildlife biologists said was too harsh and too dry to contain enough prey for a jaguar to live on. But here he is nonetheless, his golden hide adorned with large black rosettes and his muscular, feline form unmistakable in the images captured by McCain’s camera.
This jaguar is one of four that have been documented in the United States over the past decade. Some think that others live undetected in the wilds of Arizona and New Mexico. Once thought to have vanished from the United States, the cats’ presence has set off an intense debate about how to ensure their survival in the American landscape. Along the way, encounters with the jaguar have transformed an unlikely group of cattle ranchers and hunters into avowed conservationists. And the animal has become ensnared in many of the West’s thorniest political fights: the battles over grazing rights, development, mining and efforts to seal the U.S. border with Mexico.
The jaguar is the Western hemisphere’s largest feline and the third largest cat in the world; only lions and tigers are bigger. It’s also the only cat in the hemisphere that roars (although the noise is often likened to a cough). It once ranged widely through much of the Americas, from the pampas of Argentina to the rain forests of the Amazon and Central America and up through the mountains of Mexico into present-day Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. But the growth of cattle ranches, logging and mining operations, combined with extensive trapping and hunting, brought the cat to the brink of extinction in much of its range. By 1900, jaguars were fairly uncommon in the United States and sightings became rarer still as the decades progressed. In 1963, a female jaguar was killed by a hunter in Arizona’s White Mountains. As far as anyone knows, no other female has been seen since in this country. In 1969, Arizona outlawed the killing of jaguars. But over the next 25 years only two animals, both males, were documented in the United States – and both were shot by hunters.
Then, in 1996, something remarkable happened. In two separate incidents, mountain lion hunters stumbled upon jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico – and reached for cameras rather than rifles. Warner Glenn, whose hounds bayed a jaguar on a cliff in the Peloncillo Mountains of southern New Mexico in March of that year, says the thought of shooting the animal never crossed his mind. “I tell you, it would have had to be a terrible situation for me to kill one, because why would you? They are so doggone rare, and that’s the first one I ever saw,” says Glenn. So he snapped away with his camera, edging ever closer to the cat as he tried to retrieve his hounds. He got a little too close. The jaguar charged him. In a split second, Glenn’s hounds leapt between him and the cat, thwarting its attack. The jaguar slunk away, and Glenn rode out of the canyon with the first photos ever taken of a living, wild jaguar in the United States. Almost six months later and 150 miles to the west, Jack Childs and Matt Colvin, two mountain lion hunters, treed a large male jaguar. They, too, photographed the animal and called off the hounds. These two meetings of man and cat would have lasting personal and political consequences.
For Jack Childs, a retired land surveyor, his encounter with el tigre – as the jaguar is known in Mexico – launched him on a second career as a researcher. He traveled to Brazil’s Pantanal to study the cat in the heart of its range, later publishing a field guide on how to differentiate the signs – such as tracks, scat (fecal matter) and kill remains – of various cats native to the Southwest. Childs went on to found the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to investigating jaguars along the border between Arizona and Mexico. In March 2001, he began putting trail cameras in areas where jaguars had historically been sighted; in December of that year, his cameras captured images of a jaguar.
A jaguar’s spot pattern is unique, a bit like human fingerprints or the fluke patterns of humpback whales. This enables scientists to identify individual cats. But because a jaguar’s left and right patterns are different, a positive ID from a photograph requires a researcher to be looking at the same side of the animal. Sex determination from trail camera photos can also be tricky: male and female jaguars look a lot alike, and not even male genitalia can always be seen in photographs. In this case, Childs was certain he was looking at a male, and that it was a different animal than either of the ones he or Glenn had run across in 1996. He dubbed this new jaguar Macho A, using the Spanish for male.
In 2004, Emil McCain joined Childs’ Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project. McCain, who is studying for a master’s degree in wildlife management at Humboldt State University in California, had worked on jaguar studies in Costa Rica and Mexico. With his neatly trimmed red beard and mustache, he bears an odd resemblance to Vincent van Gogh. A skilled traditional bowhunter and falconer, the 29-year-old McCain and the 65-year-old Childs immediately connected. McCain helped find funding for more trail cameras and increased the number of locations he and Childs were surveying. This paid off: not only did McCain and Childs capture an additional photograph of Macho A, but they soon found a second jaguar in the Coronado National Forest, whom they called Macho B. Remarkably, when McCain analyzed Macho B’s spots, he discovered that this was the same jaguar that Childs and Colvin had treed eight years earlier.
McCain also uncovered something else: a possible third jaguar, photographed twice in September 2004 and again in December 2004. The images may simply show the left side of Macho A (who was photographed only from the right and who has not been sighted since 2004). McCain, however, thinks this is a different individual – for one thing, the tail markings don’t seem to match. Unless the cat is photographed again, however, there’s no way to know for sure.
Over the past two years, McCain and Childs have tracked Macho B year-round. They know he moves across an enormous territory, covering at least 525 square miles. They once documented him in the course of a single night traveling 13 miles over extremely rugged terrain and have trailed him across the Mexican border. The project’s camera studies also have yielded information about species from mountain lions to the raccoon-like coati. But besides Macho A, Macho B and the possible third cat, they have not captured photos of any other jaguars. McCain wonders if there’s a female out there. “Would a mature male like Macho B stick around if there weren’t a female somewhere nearby?” he asks. A female could be evidence of a breeding population – something some biologists doubt exists in the United States – and would increase pressure on the government to do more for jaguar conservation.
There are at least seven mountain ranges in Arizona and New Mexico where jaguars were historically sighted that have yet to be surveyed. Additionally, a panel of scientific advisers to a jaguar conservation team (with representatives from the Arizona Game and Fish Department and other government agencies) recommended last year that a jaguar be trapped and fitted with a satellite tracking collar. That would enable scientists to identify exactly what pathways the cat was traversing between mountain ranges and where and how often it crossed into Mexico. It also might enable researchers to locate other jaguars – including possibly those elusive females – if they exist. But game officials are still evaluating the plan.
One area where scientists have yet to look for jaguars is the Animas Mountains in New Mexico. On February 20, 2006, Warner Glenn and his daughter were leading a mountain lion hunt there when one of his dogs, Powder, went missing. Powder soon reappeared, but with a gaping hole in his neck and shoulder. “Something had whipped the dickens out of him,” Glenn says. At the same time, the rest of Glenn’s pack took off down the face of a bluff after something.
Glenn watched from the ridge as the dogs surrounded a cedar tree across the canyon. Worried that his pack had struck out after a feral hog, Glenn piloted his mule off the steep ridge, “sliding mostly,” he says. “The boulders were rolling and the brush was popping.” But when he got within 100 yards of the cedar, lo and behold, he saw a big cat sitting there. In the shade, it looked chocolate brown, and Glenn assumed it was a large male mountain lion. Suddenly, the cat charged out into the sun after the dogs, and Glenn saw it had dusky gold fur and spots. “I said, my gosh, it’s a jaguar!” Glenn recalls.
Hunters can spend a lifetime in the Southwest and never see a jaguar. Now Glenn had stumbled across his second cat in a decade. Glenn calls this one Border King. Based on the weathering of its teeth, seen in Glenn’s photos, Border King is thought to be an 8- to 9-year-old male, weighing as much as 200 pounds.
Border King was the fourth confirmed jaguar in the United States. Glenn has not seen him since but thinks he and others are probably out there, haunting the isolated mountain ranges that run south to the border and into Mexico’s Sierra Madre. “It’s a wonderful wildlife corridor,” he says. “The prey base is just number one.” And Glenn thinks the cattle that also graze there are part of the reason it’s such good jaguar habitat: the cattle rancher who owns the land runs pipelines and wells that provide water for his livestock, but also for wildlife.
At 71, Glenn is a legend in this corner of the Southwest. A fourth-generation cattleman, he grew up tracking mountain lions with his father and has spent his whole life guiding professional hunts. Tall and lean and as leathery as cowhide, Glenn looks like he stepped out of a “Bonanza” episode. But beneath his cowpoke exterior lurks a media-savvy and politically astute businessman.
Two years before his jaguar sighting in the Peloncillos, Glenn and his wife, Wendy, and some neighbors formed a group to advocate for ecologically sound range management. The motivation was to alter growing public perceptions of ranchers as poor stewards of the environment and pre-empt political pressure to further restrict grazing on public lands. Grazing limits – quotas on the number of cows a rancher can run and rules on how frequently he has to rotate pastures – were hard on cattle ranchers. And perversely, according to Glenn, they also harmed the very environment they were supposed to protect by forcing many ranchers to close up shop and sell out to developers, who then subdivided the land for housing, ruining wildlife corridors.
The Malpai Borderlands Group (derived from the Spanish word for “badlands,” Malpai is the name of Glenn’s ranch, where the group maintains its office) now encompasses nearly a million acres of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. It has pioneered a host of innovative land management techniques. These include payments to ranchers in exchange for conservation easements that guarantee their land will never be subdivided.
Glenn expected that his jaguar photos would be controversial. For a lot of ranchers in this part of the country, the accepted wisdom for how to handle an endangered species – especially a potential calf-killer – is “shoot, shovel and shut up.” After all, the thinking goes, rare wildlife brings only more grazing restrictions. But when Glenn showed his jaguar photos to the Malpai members, the group decided to go public with Glenn’s sighting. “We talked it over, and we thought it was kind of a neat thing,” Glenn says. The Malpai ranchers viewed the jaguar as a sign of the health of their land.
Not everyone thought they made the right call. In 1972, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) had listed the jaguar as endangered, but only south of the border. For two decades the service had successfully resisted efforts by environmentalists to make it list the United States as part of the jaguar’s range, which could lead to new limits on cattle ranching on public lands and hunting in parts of Arizona and New Mexico if the area were declared “critical habitat” for the jaguar. Now, other ranchers feared, Glenn’s photographs would force the government’s hand.
Sure enough, Glenn’s sighting, combined with Childs and Colvin’s encounter, led to litigation that forced the federal government in 1997 to list the jaguar as endangered in the United States. But in a nod to the ranchers’ concerns, the FWS decided that it was “not prudent” to designate any particular areas “critical habitat” for the cat, arguing that the biggest danger the jaguar faced was illegal hunting, not habitat loss.
The FWS’s position remains controversial. Last summer, the Center for Biological Diversity, the group whose lawsuit forced the government to list the jaguar as endangered, filed another suit intended to force the federal government to designate critical habitat and institute a recovery plan for the species.
The phrase “critical habitat” stokes the anger of ranchers. “All these groups want to get cattle off the federal lands – period,” says Sue Krentz, a cattle rancher near the Glenns. She says that ranchers get little credit for their contribution to the environment. “We provide water and prevent the fragmentation of rangeland, now all you want to do is punish us because we happen to run a cattle ranch,” she says. Krentz thinks the attention paid to the jaguar is disproportionate to the number of animals seen. Referring to Macho B, she says, “remember we are only talking about one jaguar here – all of this is just about one jaguar. If we did this much work with kids, they would all be able to read.”
Ranchers opposed to critical habitat designation have some powerful allies. The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Alan Rabinowitz is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on jaguars. Rabinowitz thinks the jaguars that have been sighted in the United States in recent times are mostly transients. “There is no resident population in the U.S.,” he tells me. “And no evidence of breeding.”
Carlos López González, a Mexican jaguar expert, and David Brown, a wildlife biologist at Arizona State University, came to the same conclusion in their 2001 book, Borderland Jaguars, a history of the jaguar in the southern United States and northern Mexico. They postulate that the jaguars in the U.S. wander up from the northernmost known breeding population in Mexico, which lies 140 miles south of the border in Sonora. Jaguars are solitary animals and as young adults must strike out to find their own territory.
Although McCain disagrees with Rabinowitz that the U.S. jaguars are visitors, he is not in favor of designating critical habitat for them. That, he tells me, will only pit ranchers against cats. “The problem is that it makes the jaguar the enemy,” he says. “And if that happens, we’ll never have another jaguar sighting in this country.” Even now, rumors of ranchers offering bounties for trapping jaguars on their property still circulate in southern Arizona.
Ranchers’ historic animosity toward a predator like the jaguar doesn’t dissipate easily. But, thanks in part to the conservation efforts of Childs and Glenn, attitudes are starting to change. Dan Bell, who runs the day-to-day activities of the family’s ZZ Cattle Corporation, was none too pleased when Childs began documenting jaguars moving through his ranch in December 2001. “That was kind of a shock because, we were just like, ‘Oh, no, now what? What do we do?’ ” Bell says. “I was just thinking a calf-eating machine right there. That was my first thought.”
Childs and his old hunting partner Matt Colvin, who also volunteers on wildlife studies, tried to put Bell’s mind at ease: the pair would investigate any suspicious kills and ensure that Bell received fair compensation. (One way to tell a jaguar kill: they like to eat a victim’s tongue and ears first; mountain lions start with the heart and liver.) Bell also began attending jaguar conservation meetings. There, he says, his worry about predation subsided. But it was supplanted by a new fear: the talk of critical habitat.
Bell, 39, still worries that the jaguar will be invoked to force further limits on his herd. But he continues to host jaguar researchers on his Forest Service allotment. He hopes McCain and Childs’ photographs, not just of the jaguar, but of all the other species – from turkeys to bears to skunks – will help convince people that ranches can be important wildlife corridors as well as bulwarks against urban sprawl. “People just need to realize that these ranches are providing other benefits,” he says. The alternative, he insists, is condos and golf courses.
McCain and I bounce down a rutted dirt track in the Coronado National Forest, each spine-jarring lurch of his ATV bringing us closer to the canyon floor and the edge of the United States. At the bottom of the gulch, rusty steel rails – stacked and welded into an interlocking lattice as high as a man’s chest – zigzag across the orange sand like a zipper drawn across the desert floor. This is “the wall” – part of the 700-mile-long border partition the U.S. government is building to stem the tide of illegal immigrants and drug traffickers who use these canyons to enter the country. But it may also seal the fate of the jaguar in the United States. “I don’t think the jaguar stands a chance if there is a fence,” McCain says. Jennifer Neeley, formerly the Southwest representative of the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife in Tucson, agrees. “When the wall goes up, jaguar recovery will end,” she tells me.
The wall is solid mainly near major cities. Here, in the mountains, the government has opted for this lattice construction – called a Normandy barrier because it looks a bit like the obstacles that greeted Allied forces on D-Day beaches. It’s intended to stop vehicles from driving across the border. That forces illegal migrants to enter on foot, theoretically making them easier to catch. But because an animal can go under or over the steel rails, it is also supposed to be more wildlife-friendly than a traditional wall.
McCain isn’t so sure. He’s tracked Macho B crossing the border at this very spot. “Just because it’s possible for an animal to go through here doesn’t necessarily mean they will,” he tells me as he surveys the long line of steel. He thinks animals, including jaguars, might be too intimidated to cross. The Border Patrol is also expanding solid pedestrian fencing by 31 miles near Nogales, Naco and Douglas, Arizona, including a stretch that borders much of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. It is also clearing 225 adjacent acres in order to patrol the fence line. In late August, the FWS issued an opinion that this fencing could act as a deterrent and “preclude jaguar movement into the U.S.” Still, the FWS, acting on its belief that no breeding population exists in the United States, concluded that fencing would not affect the survival or recovery of the species. The fence construction continues.
Illegal traffic moving through the remote deserts of southern Arizona poses a conundrum for conservationists. Migrants disturb wildlife and pollute pristine areas with garbage and human waste. (In wooded areas or caves where illegal migrants hide out, knee-deep piles of refuse are sometimes left behind.) But fencing and the Border Patrol’s trucks and ATVs pose equal – some say greater – risks to the fragile ecosystem. Most environmentalists say they would welcome a policy that would staunch the flow of migrants across the desert. With immigration reform going nowhere in Congress, however, such a solution does not seem likely any time soon. In the meantime, critics say the fences simply push immigrants into wilder areas. “We have not stopped a single person from coming into this country,” says Neeley. “All we’ve done is move where they are crossing from urban areas into rural and remote areas.”
Immigrants and drug traffickers use many of the same trails as jaguars. Each month, McCain discovers at least one of his cameras smashed. In response, he has taken to posting signs near the cameras in English and Spanish telling people that the photos are used only for wildlife studies. (He deletes those of people.) One volunteer for the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project began putting small cards bearing the images of the Virgin of Guadeloupe and various saints by the cameras as a sign of goodwill in the hopes that migrants and drug runners will be less likely to damage them. McCain has also found that switching to infrared cameras – which use a flash not visible to humans – cuts down on camera vandalism.
One early May day, McCain and I hike down a rocky, brush-filled canyon several miles from Nogales, working our way toward the Mexican border past flowering yellow columbine and blooming white poppy thistle (and large clusters of poison ivy). McCain’s dog Poncho races past, scaring some Montezuma quail into sudden, cooing flight. High up, a golden eagle searches lazily for its next meal. In the relatively wet canyon bottom, large oaks, sycamores and junipers have taken root. This is what biologists call a “riparian zone” – classic jaguar habitat. “If another jaguar is going to move into this country, it’s going to happen right here,” McCain says as he checks one of his cameras. But instead of sighting a jaguar, we hear shouting: a young Mexican man, scratched from head to toe from a fall through the brush and suffering a broken ankle, is screaming for help. We leave him some fresh water and promise to call the Border Patrol. (The man will be rescued by helicopter later that night.)
Encounters like these trouble McCain. He has documented both Macho A and Macho B in this canyon. But earlier this year, Macho B made a surprising move to a mountain range dozens of miles away. McCain wonders if the ongoing cat-and-mouse game between the Border Patrol, Mexican “coyotes” and drug traffickers has pushed the jaguar out.
Defenders of Wildlife has worked with other local conservation groups to create sophisticated maps of probable jaguar migration corridors. The groups hope to persuade the Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security to rely more heavily on so-called “virtual fences” – high-tech remote sensors and cameras that monitor the border without a physical barrier. But so far, they have had little success. “There is absolutely no table to sit at with the Department of Homeland Security that is meaningful in any way,” Neeley says.
The Border Patrol maintains that its efforts ultimately save the environment. “If we are not patrolling that area, then there is going to be a lot more illegal traffic coming through,” says Shannon Stevens, public information officer for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. “Illegal traffic leaves much more footprint than a Border Patrol agent would.” She emphasizes that the Tucson Sector has to contend with a tidal wave of illegal migrants – it had already apprehended 295,700 of them this year as of September.
While checking McCain’s cameras in the border canyons, we frequently catch sight of colorful plastic ribbons fluttering in the breeze: pink, blue, orange and yellow streamers attached to wooden stakes in the ground. “A lot of these are new since the last time I was here,” McCain says. These are claim stakes, and they signal another looming threat for the jaguar: a mining boom.
A recent surge in mineral prices, driven by demand from China and India, coupled with technological advances, has made it economically viable for miners to return to the Arizona mountains they largely abandoned after World War II. Prospectors have rushed to restake old claims throughout the state, including in areas where jaguars have recently been documented. The miners are aided by an 1872 mining law that makes it extremely cheap to stake a claim on public land and gives priority to mining over almost any other activity. Mining companies doing exploratory work have already built new roads into forested mountainsides.
In the Patagonia and the Santa Rita mountains, home to rare birds such as the spotted owl and the Apache Goshawk – and a place where large numbers of jaguars were once killed by hunters – conservationists and ranchers have joined together to fight a proposed open-pit copper mine. “This is a critical area of potential prey base for the jaguar,” McCain says. Unlike ranching, which does not have much impact on wildlife when carried out responsibly, mining is noisy, industrial work that can frighten off animals and alter an entire landscape. Many conservationists hope that if McCain can succeed in documenting a jaguar in these mountains, it will provide a basis to stop the mining.
So far, McCain has photographed plenty of bears and mountain lions, coatis and gray fox. But no jaguar has crossed his viewfinders in the Patagonias. McCain did, however, find some claw scrapes that he doesn’t think were made by a mountain lion. “I suspect that there’s one out here,” McCain says. But he needs proof. Eventually, he hopes DNA analysis of scat or hair samples collected in the field will confirm his hunch.
Ultimately, the fate of the jaguar in the United States is bound to its fate in Mexico. And there the cat is in trouble. Killing jaguars is illegal in Mexico, but the law is not well enforced. The jaguar population in Sonora, home of the confirmed breeding population closest to the border, is estimated to be no more than 150 individuals. Conservationists say they have reports of as many as 30 jaguars killed in Sonora within the past five years.
A number of U.S. conservation groups have stepped in to try to save the Sonoran jaguars, with the hope that a healthy population there will eventually spread into the United States. In 2003, the Tucson-based Northern Jaguar Project helped the Mexican conservation group Naturalia purchase Rancho Los Pavos, a 10,000-acre spread near the junction of the Aros and Bavispe rivers, to serve as a jaguar reserve. Now the Northern Jaguar Project is trying to raise $1.7 million to purchase an adjacent 35,000-acre ranch. The project, along with Defenders of Wildlife, has also launched an innovative program in which it provides trail cameras to Mexican ranchers and pays them for photographs of wild cats: $300 for a jaguar, $150 for an ocelot and $100 for a mountain lion – all significant sums in impoverished Sonora. The idea is to give ranchers a financial incentive to let rare predators live on their land.
Some biologists, however, think that maintaining the Sonoran population will hardly ensure the jaguar’s return to the United States. “You can sit around and wait for a female to show up from 120 miles away, but it is a pretty outside chance,” says Arizona State University’s David Brown. “If you are really serious about managing the jaguar population, you have to introduce a female or two and see what happens.” Though conservation groups such as Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity support the idea, state and federal authorities have so far refused to consider a reintroduction.
In the meantime, conservationists in the United States have been working to protect those jaguars that do make it over the border. In an effort to get ranchers to view the cats as less of a threat, the Malpai Borderlands Group has pledged to reimburse them for any livestock the animals kill. The group made the first such payment – $500 – to a rancher who lost a calf earlier this year. Ranchers are also being encouraged to use simple techniques – such as birthing all their cows at the same time and keeping calves away from areas where predators are known to be active – to minimize losses. In July, Arizona congressman Raúl Grijalva introduced a bill to set aside 83,400 acres of mountains and rolling grassland northwest of Nogales as the Tumacacori Highlands Wilderness Area. The land would be off-limits to mining, development and recreational use by motorized vehicles.
Eco-friendly tourism may help, as well. The town of Ruby, located between Nogales and Arivaca, is a remnant of Arizona’s mining past. Despite attempts to reclaim its sandy, white mine tailings and a brief stint as a hippie colony in the late 1960s, Ruby functions today only as a ghost town frequented by occasional tourists. Howard Frederick, an animal nutritionist whose family owns Ruby, plans to turn the place into a biological reserve. And he is excited that McCain and Childs have documented the jaguar in the surrounding canyons. “If they wanted to make Ruby a home, that would be great,” Frederick says.
One night back at the remote ranch house that McCain uses as a field base, he lectures on the borderland jaguars to members of the socially prestigious Tucson Rodeo Parade Committee. The group consists mostly of city slickers, but they are clearly captivated by his presentation. After McCain concludes, several people approach him and offer to work as volunteers for the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project. One man asks why Arizona Game and Fish has not done more to publicize the presence of the cat. “It’s just amazing to think this animal is out there,” he tells McCain.
That seems to be the way it goes with the jaguar. To a lot of people, the idea that such a majestic and mysterious creature stalks the high desert touches something primal within, inspiring an appreciation for all that is still wild and unfettered by man. And if the jaguar disappears again, a victim of development or mining or a belief that a wall can prevent supply from meeting demand, then it won’t be just the great spotted cat that suffers. For with the jaguar will go another piece of what little remains of the untamed soul of the American West.
Writer Jeremy Kahn, based in New Delhi, India, reports frequently on the environment, politics and foreign affairs.