The Vulnerable State of Wild Jaguars in the United States

Jaguar female. Photo by Charles Sharp Photography.
Female jaguar. Image: Charles Sharp Photography.

In the United States, mountain lions and bobcats are currently the biggest felines around; but there was once a different big cat that ruled the American Southwest — the jaguar.

If you’ve watched a few nature documentaries, you’ve probably seen jaguars prowling through Central and South American rainforests and rivers. But you’d probably never expect to see them in the Arizona forests and deserts. Yet, in the past couple decades, jaguar sightings in Arizona have been increasing.

Since 1996, seven individual male jaguars have been documented in the United States, all in southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. These jaguars are believed to have come from the nearest core area and breeding population, approximately 130 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border in Sonora, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Region news release.

Male Jaguar–Photo Courtesy of UA

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New images were released earlier this year by the Center for Biological Diversity, including photos of wild jaguars named El Jefe and Yo’oko. Yo’oko was killed in 2018 after getting caught in a mountain lion hunter’s trap in Mexico.

This jaguar was sighted 60 miles north of the U.S.- Mexico border in the Dos Cabezas Mountains in Cochise County, Arizona. A Bureau of Land Management trail camera photographed the big cat on November 16, 2016.

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In an earlier sighting in February 2016, a different jaguar was filmed by the Center for Biological Diversity in the Santa Rita Mountains — just 25 miles outside of downtown Tucson, Arizona. Below, you can view the footage of this male jaguar named El Jefe. El Jefe has been sighted multiple times in Arizona and is the only jaguar known to permanently reside in the United States.

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