Rewilding of the Jaguar in the United States



Rewilding means re-introducing an animal to the place that it formerly inhabited before being removed totally (extirpated) from the area.The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”)  have proposed creating a group of “reserves” mainly in southern Arizona, bordering Mexico, into which the jaguar will be re-introduced (or the population expanded).

At one time the jaguar did occupy the United States. It is difficult to imagine that. The FWS hint that this large wild cat species might still be present in the USA. They refer to the last cat being shot by a hunter in 1982 (can that person please step forward and make himself known to us).

I believe that the FWS are being optimistic in their assessment that the jaguar still inhabits the USA. But they claim that since 1996 the designed area (the proposed area for new reserves) has seen occupancy by jaguars. That information seems to have got back to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ as they indicate in their range map for the species that there are three small pockets of land where there might be ‘vagrant’ jaguars within the designated area. If this is true the exercise is not ‘rewilding’ but an artificial expansion of the existing population.

The jaguar still occupies parts of Mexico (fragmented coastal regions), Central America and primarily South America. It is a wild cat that lives in topical and subtropical habitats and is associated with water. The jaguar likes water and is a strong swimmer.

It is the third largest wild cat species after the tiger and lion and is about one third again larger than than the cougar. It is a genuine big cat that has real presence and strength with the highest bite force of all the wild cat species. It is far more intimidating than the cougar which is relatively shy and cute by comparison.

So why try and re-introduce this splendid wild cat into proposed, protected fragmented areas totaling 838,000 acres in southern United States that includes southern Arizona and the south-western corner of New Mexico? Can it work? My immediate thought is of the huge difficulties that India struggles with in respect of the Bengal tiger. The enormous efforts to conserve the tiger in the wild are failing. Can America do better with the jaguar?

Is there something about this project that we don’t know about?. There are plenty of people in America who’d like to shoot a jaguar as a trophy. Will there be regulated hunting? Is that the motivator or a partial reason behind this ambitious project?

With the population of America rising consistently year on year protecting a park will become increasingly difficult. Also I notice that the protected areas are relatively small (see below). Are they capable of sustaining a group of jaguars that will be able to breed naturally? Individual male jaguars require a home range of about 60 square miles (about 152 km²). My assessment of the protected areas are that one parcel of the group of areas is about the same size. To me, this indicates that the protected cannot support a self-sustaining group of jaguars. Certainly units five and six couldn’t. This would imply that the FWS want to create a sort of man made large zoo.

The area is: in Pima, Santa Cruz, and Cochise Counties, Arizona, and Hidalgo County, New Mexico (per the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s document about this project: Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Critical Habitat for Jaguar).

Proposed Jaguar Reserves USA

Proposed Jaguar Reserves USA

I have loosely marked out the area where the proposed ‘jaguar reserves’ will be sited below. I also present a screenshot from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s document above. I don’t think they will mind. If some one does please leave a comment and I’ll react to it quickly.

View USA 838,000 Acres Protected for Jaguar in a larger map

A regular contributor, Dan Wilhelm, living in the USA made this useful comment in an email to me:

….if NE Arizona/NW New Mexico are large enough to have over 1100 wolves, in what must be a enormous number of packs, then our SE Texas/Southern New Mexico/Southern Arizona must surely have room for a few jaguars. The north part of New Mexico is amazingly sparse people wise, but when you add in SE Texas and the fact that there still very few population centers in across the Southern end of our states, we should be able to accommodate the Jaguars, Ocelots and perhaps some Jaguarondi’s that used to haunt our desertscape. By the way, the US Fish and Wildlife use F or M as the beginning of a tagged animals name and than a unique number. So the fact that her name is F1188, means there are that many currently around. (I believe the reuse old numbers when they find dead wolves – if not my whole theory is off a bit.)

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Rewilding of the Jaguar in the United States — 9 Comments

    • Thanks for that information, Dan. Very useful. I wonder if the jaguars wander in from Mexico? Or is too fanciful an idea? I just don’t see jaguars fitting in with the American way of life. This is one of the big cats and do Americans want a big cat wandering around the countryside in America, completely wild? How can this be managed?

  1. Believe it or not Michael, a good 90 percent of the USA is rural undeveloped open space. I think you can read about it by searching the census bureau. It would be interesting to see a map of undeveloped land vs. developed. I’ll leave that in your good hands! But I think there is room for a preserve. Especially in Arizona. I wonder if the Jaquar would want to live there? It has an interesting combination of desert, high country, forests and canyon lands. This could be a very good thing.


    • That sounds great dw and thank you for the information. However, I still have reservations because jaguars need a pile of land to live in and they don’t understand the idea of boundaries etc. I have this gut feeling that the jaguar is better off not being in the USA. That is not to criticize America. America is a great place to live in for many reasons, for people. I would say the same thing about any country in Europe including the UK. Things move on. The world develops. And the jaguar does not have a place in a modern world. That is probably why it is “Near Threatened” (IUCN Red List classification) in the world and has retreated to jungles in South America (its stronghold is the rainforest of the Amazon basin).

      And if the USA was a naturally attractive place for the jaguar it would still be there. It will take a mind set change for the American people and the jaguar to live in harmony. I am sorry if that sounds negative and cynical. I just think it is realistic and honest.

    • Your comment got me thinking. I am not sure of the accuracy of this but there is about 3.6 million square miles of land in the USA. Alaska is the last true wilderness in the USA. Almost all is wilderness. Alaska occupies 591,000 square miles. Apparently something between 27 percent of the other 49 states are wildlands. Another person says that the percentage of North America that is wilderness: 38% (that includes Alaska and Canada).

      Almost all the wildlands are in the mid-west. Population growth is at 1.3% a year. Estimated population 2050: 439 million. Some European populations are declining. The jaguar will one day be in zoos like all the other wild cats. It may take 100 years. Sorry to be pessimistic but the trend points to it. Of course things might change.

      • Somehow, I knew you would do the homework. All that said, I can’t blame them for trying. It might work for a while.

        But that is just me, the eternal optimist.


  2. We share the Sonora Desert with Mexico and I believe they most certainly came from Mexico. The question in my mind is why? Some say water, but there is water all over the place. I think it may be a sign that our fast desert is plentiful right now and we have room for a FEW jaguars that did once haunt Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. They are on the right track, they just need to keep the balance. We have our beautiful Mexican Red Wolf packs in Northern Arizona and New Mexico. They know no borders. The Navajo nations (there are 30 of them) and Hopi Nation allow them to free reign of their areas. I hope we can do the same for the big cats of the Sonora Desert.

    On the population and urban growth they have to deal with. We have two major urban centers. Phoenix — which is two square miles larger than the city of Los Angeles (with out suburbs). However, a huge part of that land is wilderness. They were offered a killer deal and so they bought it. We are the 6th largest metropolitan area in the US. Tucson is much, much smaller. It’s like a really big small town. Everybody says so. I love going there. There are hicks everywhere! I am a hick (from a small town), so I fit right in. The climate and terrain are different. More rain and much cooler. Perfect climate for big cats.

    • Thanks Dan for that on the ground report. It sounds good. I am a skeptic and maybe incorrect in my assessment. Let’s hope it works out.

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