The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formally proposed to protect a “critical habitat” for endangered jaguars last Friday. The area that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to protect is 838,232 acres of land in southern Arizona and New Mexico.
Care2, an activist petition website, helped bring attention to the issues surrounding jaguars in the U.S. According to the petition, it was urgent that the Interior Department act on its 2010 pledge to grant the jaguar protected habitat in the U.S. and to develop a recovery plan to save the big cats.
Recent sightings of two jaguars in Southern Arizona prompted the petition. Prior to the recent sightings of a 200-pound male with brownish-yellow fur and dark rosettes, the American jaguar was hunted close to extinction. Macho B, the last known American jaguar, was illegally trapped and captured in 2009 and died shortly after.
Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said of the proposal, “Today’s habitat proposal will ensure North America’s largest cat returns to the wild mountains and deserts of the Southwest. Jaguars are a spectacular part of our natural heritage and belong to every American –just as surely as bald eagles, wolves and grizzly bears.”
The habitat proposal comes after a long drawn out fight through the courts to save the big cats. Scientists and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a suit to have jaguars listed as an endangered species in 1997. The American Society of Mammologist stated in 2007 that the long-term survival of jaguars was essential and dependent upon the U.S. establishing a population of the species and protecting it. In 2009, the Center for Biological Diversity secured a court order for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prepare a recovery plan and designate a critical habitat for jaguars.
Suckling said, “You can’t protect endangered species without protecting the places they live. Species with protected critical habitat recover twice as fast as those without it.”
The proposal includes hundreds of thousands of acres in Arizona specifically in the Baboquivari, Tumacacori, Atascosa, Pajarito, Santa Rita, Patagonia and Huachuca mountains. The critical habitat also includes lands in the Canelo Hills, AZ and acreage in the Whetstone Mountains. A couple thousand acres for the big cats will be in the Peloncillo Mountains in Arizona and New Mexico. A very small allotted acreage (7,590 acres) will be protected land for the jaguar in the San Luis Mountains, New Mexico.