February 23, 2024 | By:

Episode 121: Beyond Borders – Jaguar Recovery In The United States

Megan "Turtle" Southern

Megan “Turtle” Southern, TRI Jaguar Recovery Coordinator


Before joining The Rewilding Institute, Megan “Turtle” Southern was the coordinator of the Northern Jaguar Project, where she helped to establish and grow the Northern Jaguar Reserve in Sonora, Mexico, organized scientific research projects and conservation education among youth, and worked extensively with ranchers to promote coexistence.

It has been 15 years since the jaguar known as Macho B died. That is an entire lifetime for a jaguar. It has been eight years since El Jefe was last seen in Arizona, having since moved south into Sonora, Mexico. The newest U.S. jaguar, confirmed earlier this year, follows in their footsteps – a trail that leads through Arizona and New Mexico to vast areas of wild, rugged habitat and abundant prey.

What this new jaguar shows us: Arizona is still wild, we still have our apex predator here, and the border is still porous enough that wild jaguars can cross it. Jaguars are telling us with their movements that they need access to both sides of the border, and that we need to keep linkages open between core areas.

Large portions of Arizona and New Mexico have been identified as potential jaguar habitat, based on historical observations, vegetation type, prey availability, and proximity to water. With Arizona and New Mexico in the mix, the northern population of jaguars could double in number from the cats found in Sonora, habitat options would be expanded, genetic integrity improved, and overall, there would be a more positive outlook for the future.

We know that 20 years ago, the jaguar population in Sonora was believed to be in decline. The idea of setting up what is now the Northern Jaguar Reserve was seen by some as an impractical dream. Today, this core area is protected, a priority for conservation, and essential to jaguar survival and recovery.

Being in places where jaguars roam, like on the reserve, provides countless opportunities for inspiration for what the next 20 years of conservation efforts will bring for jaguars in their northern range. Jaguars belong in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, historically and still today. This is their home. 


  • Field guide to get to know the jaguar
  • Jaguars in the United States – historically
  • Jaguars in the United States – modern times
  • One place northern jaguars live: Northern Jaguar Reserve
  • Finding understanding, inspiration, and story from jaguars in the U.S. and Mexico
  • Corridors, connectivity, threats, the border wall
  • Hints at future plans, how carnivores prompt us to think big… stay tuned for more.
  • Storytelling is key to advancing conservation; science alone doesn’t lead to action, and imaginative empathy is key, as discussed recently with Paula MacKay and Robert Long in Episode 120.

Extra Credit

This is the beginning of a series on Jaguar recovery. Throughout this year, you will hear from experts on Jaguar recovery and how we will one day see resident pairs of Jaguars living in the US once again.

Download Episode 121 Transcript (PDF)

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