One of only two known wild jaguars existing in the United States has been killed, according to wildlife officials.
Scientists believe that a young male jaguar named Yo’oko, who had been spotted roaming Arizona’s Huachuca Mountains in previous years, was recently shot and skinned — although the details of the incident are still unclear.
Because jaguars have unique coat markings, wildlife biologists have been able to identify the big cat based on the image of a pelt released by the Northern Jaguar Project to the Arizona Daily Star. The biologists declined to say how they acquired the image in order to protect ranchers, but they did say that it was taken in Mexico.
Yo’oko had been named by students at Hiaki High School in Arizona, who had been involved with studying the images taken on various trail cameras over the past few years. “The thought of having to explain to those kids at Hiaki High School that somebody killed their favorite jaguar really just breaks my heart,” said conservationist Randy Serraglio of the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement.
The only other jaguar known to be currently living in the United States is another male named Sombra.
Jaguars historically roamed the American Southwest, but habitat loss and hunting over the last 150 years has almost wiped them out completely. The last female jaguar seen in the United States was killed in 1963. Today, hunting and killing jaguars is illegal in both the United States and Mexico.
“[This] highlights the urgency to protect jaguar habitat on both sides of the border and ensure that these rare, beautiful cats have safe places to live,” said Serraglio. “We must continue working to overcome the cultural prejudice that jaguars are somehow enemies of people.”