Are Wild Jaguars Moving Back Into the U.S.?

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"It could be that that habitat is saturated and that the animals are now starting to disperse outside of that population," said Van Pelt.

Most of the jaguars spotted in the U.S. since the 1900s have been males, leading some biologists to believe that males from the Mexican population periodically cross into the U.S. seeking to establish a new territory.

Now that the same cat has been imaged twice, Van Pelt and his colleagues are asking the question of whether or not the male has established a territory in southern Arizona.

Childs, who operates the heat-sensitive cameras, said that the conservation team has increased surveillance of the mountainous area where the jaguar was imaged in August but that no additional sightings have been reported.

Recolonization Efforts

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes the jaguar as an endangered species and some conservationists are pushing the government to protect its Arizona habitat, but there are no plans for a jaguar reintroduction effort as was done with gray wolves (Canus lupus) in the 1990s.

A reintroduction effort would require importing wild-caught jaguars from South America to the U.S., but since their habitat and prey base is so different, there is little chance the big cats would survive in the U.S., said Childs.

Alternatively, jaguars from the Mexican population could be brought up to the U.S., but because that population is already endangered, such a move would put the Mexican population in jeopardy.

"But if we can keep our border like it is now, do everything we can, we are hoping they'll colonize on their own as the population increases in Mexico," said Childs. "Maybe those transients will stay up here. Rather than reintroduction, the team is striving for recolonization."

To help achieve this goal, the Jaguar Conservation Team regularly distributes education materials to citizens in Mexico and the U.S. and holds informational seminars in an effort to increase awareness of the jaguars and their potential U.S. home.

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