Return of the Big Cat Along the Texas-Mexico Border?

When the Spanish invaded, they brought herds of cattle, which Jaguar took to be dinner on the hoof. The colonists attacked the big cats to protect their herds but soon took up trophy hunting. Jaguar is the third largest cat in the world, after the lion and the tiger, and his coat is a thing of beauty.

Unfortunately for the sacred cat, his beautiful coat progressed from hunting trophy to fashion statement. The human wearing of animal fur comes and goes, even though with modern synthetics that are both warm and good looking, there is no longer any necessity. Designer Oleg Cassini, who in the early sixties dressed Jackie Kennedy in a leopard-skin coat, has since advocated for synthetics. The Great History blog claimed, “Over 250,000 leopards were hunted and killed as women purchased their copy of Jackie’s coat.”

When cat fur became a fashion statement by rich people, Jaguar’s coat was at a premium, and about 18,000 jaguars per year died for the luxury fur trade, until the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of 1973 brought the pelt trade to a near halt. Still, the combination of hunting and habitat destruction threatens Jaguar, who is said to be extinct in Uruguay and El Salvador. Jaguar habitat in the Americas mimics the spots on Jaguar’s coat.

At the turn of the 21st century, conservationists enlisted DNA technology to determine how many ecoclines, subspecies, “races,” are represented by surviving jaguars. To their surprise there is only one jaguar genome in all of the Americas. The tale of the DNA led to a conservation movement to reconstitute the geographical version of the so-called jaguar corridor by connecting the islands of friendly habitat up and down and across the continents.

An organization dedicated to preserving all the big cats of the world, Panthera, is pushing the Jaguar Corridor Initiative in 13 of the 18 countries known to contain breeding populations. Indigenous communities are key to finding and protecting paths for the jaguars to walk between habitat “islands” in seas of urbanization and farms carved out of forests from Argentina to Mexico.

The Jaguar Corridor Initiative stops in Mexico because the evidence of breeding jaguar populations in the U.S. is thin.

The last Arizona resident jaguar in the U.S. was thought to have been shot in 1965. Shot with a gun, not a camera. Arizona got around to outlawing jaguar hunting in 1969.

In 1996, two jaguars were photographed in southern Arizona, one of them hard by Arizona’s border with the Tohono O’odham Nation. Smithsonian carried a report in 2005 that three individual jaguars have been documented by camera traps, and they have to be either part of a U.S. population or outliers from the threatened habitat in Sonora, directly across the Mexican border. Tohono O’odham lands are in a prime location to make a jaguar corridor between Sonora and Arizona. Naturalia, a Mexican conservation group, has purchased a 10,000-acre ranch in Sonora to serve as the core of a private jaguar reserve on the Mexican side.

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