#10 Around the Campfire; Buy an Acre for Spot
In the late 1700s, the big spotted cat—the jaguar—lived and bred and hunted in what was to be the United States from the Tennessee River Valley to California. Until the middle of the twentieth century, smaller and smaller breeding populations hung on in the U.S. Southwest. In the last decade, what seem to be a few lone toms have shown up in southern New Mexico and Arizona from the Peloncillo Mountains west to the Baboquivari Mountains.
The jaguar in the United States? This surprises most people, maybe even you, intrepid reader. We think Felis onca—or Spot, as I like to call my totemic big cat—is a jungle beast, King of the American Jungle. We don’t think of them stalking elk amongst fir and aspen, or even nosing around after mule deer in piñon-juniper woodland. We don’t think of them leaving big, four-toed tracks in snow. But they did historically. And should do again.
A few years ago, a Mexican biologist, Carlos Lopez, who had connections with U.S. conservation groups such as The Wildlands Project, found a largely unknown (to biologists and conservationists, anyway) breeding population of big spotted cats in northern Sonora, only 120 miles or so south of the Arizona line. Carlos and others quickly reckoned that this fair-sized population was spitting out a few young males that were finding their way north to the United States. The core habitat for these northern jaguars is where the Aros and Bavispe rivers come together to form the Yaqui. Alas, the best of the habitat is in four ranchos owned by an absentee rancher who dislikes predators, especially Spot. Although jaguars are protected in Mexico, dozens have been killed on the ranchos recently. Mountain lions and other native carnivores are being shot as well. Shooting, trapping, and other persecution could exterminate this priceless tribe of jaguars unless it is stopped and the habitat protected for native species.
Naturalia, a leading Mexican conservation group, and friends in the United States like Diana Hadley of the University of Arizona and Craig Miller of Defenders of Wildlife, quickly formed the Northern Jaguar Project to raise money to buy the ranchos as a sanctuary for jaguars. Enough money has been raised to buy one of the ranchos, and a small reserve at Rancho Los Pavos has been established with resident guardians and researchers. We—I include myself and The Rewilding Institute as hot-blooded partners of the Northern Jaguar Project—are now trying to raise money to buy the four adjacent ranchos to create the Northern Jaguar Reserve, which will protect core breeding habitat for northern jaguars on over 40,000 acres of extremely rugged country in the foothills of the Sierra Madre. The rancher is more than happy to sell and the Jaguar Project is making payments for their purchase. Killing cats and other native species will be stopped once ranchos are added to the reserve. Guardians on duty will make sure of that. Owners of surrounding ranchos are much more open to protecting jaguars than is the current owner of the core area.
Please click on the attachment below to read the entire “Campfire.”