Liberty Canyon Freeway Overcrossing Concept May Help Pave Way For Jaguars Return to United States – And Protect Them in Belize

The recent groundbreaking for the Annenberg over-crossing in Liberty Canyon marks a shift in understanding of how to protect vulnerable species from extinction. National parks and protected areas are no longer seen as enough.

leopard on brown log
Jaguar range is shrinking Photo by Flickr on

Fragmented populations must be able to connect with each other to breed and eliminate inbreeding which eventually causes local extinction.

The over crossing will be a bridge over a busy freeway that is intended to allow mountain lions, bobcats, deer and bear, among others, to pass over the deadly highway and into land to find mates. Groundbreaking was last week.

Artists rendering

In Belize, a country in Central America, the problem is similar. Belize was until recently more forested than it is now and the forest is now largely cut in two sections with a corridor running between them. That corridor has been shrinking due to economic growth and there is a threat that the two sections might be severed. But, as in the Liberty Canyon over crossing people are trying to reach a solution. Liberty Canyon involved private and government donors who funded the expensive project. It will take about two years or so to build a bridge over the freeway and landscape it to attract animals.

close up photo of a brown cougar
Pumas are the second largest American cat significantly smaller than jaguars. Photo by Andrew Patrick on

In Belize, the government, citizens and conservation groups are working together to buy the land in the corridor to protect the bridge. So far 42,000 acres have been purchased, but rescuers such as Runaway Creek and Re:Wild want to acquire 50,000 more acres. They are raising funds to do so. The government is on board with the effort as are many of the locals. Jaguars are important economically and culturally and their survival is important to many residents.

In the American Southwest, male jaguars have been seen in Arizona since the 1990’s. Males roam widely but females stay near their birth area. Unless the females can come into the United States and breed the populations will not expand. The males are reaching the United States through wildlife corridors and efforts are underway to protect those routes. Two corridors have been identified and Cuenca Los Ojos and the Janos Biosphere Reserve are working with Mexican conservation authorities to help preserve the crossings. The reserve is the home of the only population of wild bison in Mexico.

Jaguars were once common from the southern United States down through much of South America. Current population estimates suggest there may be up to 300,000 remaining. But forest habitat is shrinking and populations are being fragmented. The route through Belize is critical for cats moving north and south.

Jaguars are the continent’s only true “Big Cat” as pumas (aka mountain lions or cougars) are in a different class. The largest jaguars outweigh the largest pumas by about 80 pounds.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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