February 25, 2009—The Wild West is wild again.
For the first time in more than a century, a jaguar was caught and collared in the U.S.
The big cats have been photographed near the Arizona-Mexico border for years, but the newly captured specimen was found outside of its usual range, southwest of Tucson. (See an Arizona map.)
The Arizona Game and Fish Department spotted the 118-pound (54-kilogram) male during a research study of mountain lion and black bear habitat. It was later confirmed to be Macho B, an animal that has been photographed since 1996 and could be between 14 to 16 years old—making it the oldest jaguar ever collared.
The animal was released wearing a satellite-tracking collar, which will give biologists new insight into the little-studied population of northern jaguars.
(See a picture of the first jaguar seen in central Mexico since 1900.)
"It's good news for jaguar conservation, and it's exciting that the U.S. is getting data on this small population," Jon Beckmann, a conservation ecologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society, told National Geographic News.
The sighting also stresses the importance of keeping habitat between the U.S. and Mexico unhindered, so that the big cats can roam freely, Beckmann added.
Jaguars, once common throughout the southern United States, were mostly killed off in the country by the early 1900s.
But observations of the cats around the Arizona border placed them under the protection of the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1997.