Jaguars, the largest cats in the Americas, have been absent from Arizona and the United States for decades. Males have been occasionally been sighted since the 1990’s in and around Arizona. At least one is thought to be a resident.
Now research suggests several are in Mexico, very close to the border.
But human politics and road building remain the biggest stumbling blocks to reintroduction. Nevertheless, conservationists on both sides of the border are working to increase Jaguar populations in Mexico and encourage a spill over into the United States.
According to National Geographic:
“The borderlands of Arizona and New Mexico, and its series of mountain ranges, known as Sky Islands, represent one of the most biodiverse areas of North America. Interspersed with mountains are the dry plains of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts and assorted grasslands and riparian areas, collectively home to tens of thousands of species of plants and animals. For eons, jaguars, mountain lions, ocelots, bears, and many other wide-ranging species have freely roamed across this contiguous biome. But barriers such as roads and fences now hamper this movement.”
As always, human development remains the major issue. Roads present a barrier and a potentially fatal hazard to the cats and other animals. Arizona is heavily impacted by illegal immigration. Parts of a wall have been built to impede humans crossing the border and that wall impedes wildlife too.
Meanwhile, Cuenca Los Ojos, a grassroots conservation organization, is working to reverse environmental damage and make the land more habitable for jaguars and other widlfe.
As they say on their website: “Along the way, we have identified straightforward, pragmatic methods that any landowner or land manager can use. As we look to the future, we are enthusiastic about sharing our learned lessons with others. Widespread application of the techniques we have discovered could revive our degraded landscapes, leading to a more vibrant and prosperous environment for nature and people.”
Cuenca Los Ojos joins a number of groups in North and South America working to increase the number of jaguars in the wild. Some groups are focusing on over and underpasses to mitigate the impact of traffic on jaguars. CalTrans in California is working on such projects.
Others are rewilding jaguars and releasing them in areas from which they were cleared. Finally, there are efforts to maintain wildlife corridors to allow migration. This will help prevent inbreeding and local extinction. Liberty Canyon is perhaps the most famous example. That ambitious project is designed to help local cougars. Bridging the 101 Freeway it is expected to be finished in about two years.
Jaguars are still fairly numerous but estimates vary widely. Panthera estimate 15,000 remain while the World Wildlife Federation (UK) puts the number at 173,000. The disparity may involve varying estimates of the number in the Amazon rainforest, which is their stronghold. It is clear that Brazil and surrounding nations have the most jaguars. The realities of the rainforest make counting them difficult.