Conservationists and Scientists Push for Jaguar Reintroduction in the Southwest

By author of The Realblog with Stephanie Mallory

Ranchers say the big cat will only cause problems

A group of scientists and environmentalists are making the argument that jaguars should be reintroduced in the Southwestern United States.

In a piece published in Conservation Science and Practice last month, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Pace University, and the Center for Biological Diversity, among other groups, advocated to reintroduce the jaguar to a portion of Arizona and New Mexico, where the animal has been extinct since 1964.

According to Phys.org, jaguars lived for hundreds of years in the central mountains of Arizona and New Mexico but were driven to local extinction by the mid-20th century, in part because of killing by government hunters.

“We see reintroducing the jaguar to the mountains of central Arizona and New Mexico as essential to species conservation, ecosystem restoration and rewilding,” the paper states.

The paper’s author claims up to 150 adult jaguars could be released into the 31,800-square-mile area ranging from Arizona to Mexico and the population could sustain itself for about 100 years. Only slightly more than 1% of the area is developed, so the animals could have access to water and prey with a low level of human interaction.

According to The Hill, the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service manage more than 68% of the area in question; the White Mountain and San Carlos Apache tribes manage approximately 13%.

“Jaguars have been part of the American faunal assemblage for nearly 1.5 million years, but are now reduced as a matter of government policy,” the paper says. “The jaguar's loss is also a loss for the nation, the ecology of the Southwest, and the jaguar as a species. Our world's natural heritage is diminished nearly everywhere; here is a model for who, where, how and why people should invest in restoring it. For the jaguar, America's Great Cat, the question is when.”

Of course, some are opposed. The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association told KRQE News 13 it’d be a burden to farmers and ranchers in the state.

Randell Major, president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, told the Santa Fe New Mexican, “The government — the Endangered Species Act — continues to just put its people who produce food at a disadvantage, and make it harder and harder to be sustainable.”

Major said the jaguars would be set free in the same area that Mexican wolves were, which will escalate the livestock killing.

He said the compensation program for ranchers who suffer livestock losses to Mexican wolves is inadequate and cumbersome because a rancher must wade through red tape and prove that a wolf killed an animal.

“They want these wolves, they want these jaguars — then they need to get their checkbooks out,” Major said. “This is a taking of private property. People are trying to make a living out here.”

But Sharon Wilcox, a Defenders of Wildlife representative who co-authored the study, told the Santa Fe New Mexican that the conflict between ranchers and jaguars shouldn’t be nearly as bad as some people fear. She said the cats will be distributed across a wide area, especially at first with the low number. She also said the area has plentiful wild prey for the jaguars, so their impact on livestock should be minimal.

Wilcox says it’s possible to balance everyone’s needs while helping a species that was driven to the brink.

Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity agrees, telling KRQE News 13, “We have this opportunity to do right by an animal that we exterminated. To do right by the ecosystem. And I think it’s doing right by our society as well.”

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