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UPDATED: Excitement Follows Two Jaguar Sightings in Arizona

TUCSON, Ariz. — The sightings of two jaguars in southern Arizona mark the first time the elusive and rare animals have been seen in the southwest U.S. since one was illegally trapped and then died in 2009 – signs that the animals are occasionally moving into their historic range from northern Mexico and may actually live here full-time.

A sighting on Nov. 19 was confirmed through photographs, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department. A federal helicopter pilot also spotted a big cat loping down a forested hillside in June in a sighting that has been deemed credible, but unconfirmed.

The male cat was treed by a hunter’s dogs on Nov. 19 in Cochise County, well north of the U.S.-Mexico border, Game and Fish spokesman Mark Hart said Thursday. Mountain lion hunter Donnie Fenn called game officials, then took photographs of the 200-pound cat in a mesquite tree.

During a Nov. 23 press conference in Tucson, he described how the roaring and snarling animal fought off his hunting dogs.

The June sighting by a Homeland Security helicopter pilot was first reported by the Arizona Daily Star on Wednesday.

The sightings are exciting for biologists because they show that the animals are using habitat north of the U.S.-Mexico border. A male jaguar dubbed Macho B was the last known jaguar in the U.S. when it died after being trapped by a conservationist in 2009. It had been documented in Arizona for at least a decade.

A former Game and Fish subcontractor pleaded guilty to violating the endangered species act for trapping the cat in 2009, another conservationist was given diversion and a Game and Fish employee was fired for lying to federal investigators.

“The existence of any jaguars in Arizona was unknown for the past two years,” Hart said. “Now we know there is at least one, although he is on the move and we can’t say where he is today.”

The jaguar is the largest cat native to the Western hemisphere and lives primarily in Mexico, Central and South America, but they’re known to roam in southern Arizona and New Mexico. The only cat native to North America that roars, they were thought to have been eliminated in the U.S. by 1990 until two were spotted in 1996 in southern Arizona.

The newly spotted cats — there may be two or just one — are likely moving north from more established populations in the northern Mexican states of Sonora and Sinaloa, said Sergio Avila, a wildlife biologist with the Sky Island Alliance in Tucson. Several hundred of the animals are believed to live there, and they don’t stop roaming because of an artificial border.

“Jaguars don’t care if they are in the United States or in Mexico,” Avila said. “Our organization documented two jaguars late last year only 30 miles south of the border. So for the jaguar, that is the same region.

“So Macho B was the last in Arizona that we knew, but we’re not surprised that other jaguars are showing up, because we know that this is good habitat and we know that it is connected to their source populations, so I think we need to see it in a broader perspective, a regional perspective.”

There is no documented breeding population in their traditional ranges in Arizona and New Mexico, but Avila said that doesn’t matter to the male jaguars here, because they’re known to travel hundreds of miles and can find mates in Mexico. And females are more elusive, so they could be here.

“I wouldn’t discount that there’s not a breeding population either very close to border north or south, because there’s a lot of habitat, there’s a lot of connections, there’s a lot of food.” Avila said. “So what (these sightings) prove is that jaguars are able to survive in this place, and yes, we would like to have females, but that doesn’t make the males less important.”

Avila’s group photographed two jaguars late last year just 30 miles south of the Arizona border, and one of them may be the same animal recently spotted in Arizona.

“The Arizona Game and Fish Department thinks this is thrilling, extraordinary and significant, but there are scientists who would contend, and we have to respect their opinion, that what’s really needed is to see a female or cubs or something that suggests there’s a breeding population,” Hart said.

“These are such cryptic animals that it’s quite likely that there are other animals that just haven’t been seen,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “And we look forward to the day when there’s confirmed jaguar kittens back in the United States as well.”

The conservation group credits its action for jaguars being placed on the endangered species list in 1997. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under a court order to develop a jaguar recovery plan and designate critical habitat for the cats. Drafts of both rules were expected next year.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————–Dec. 1, 2011 7:56 a.m. — Copter Pilot Spots Jaguar in Southern Ariz.

By The Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. — The U.S. Border Patrol says a helicopter pilot flying in southern Arizona spotted a rare jaguar heading down a heavily forested hill.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security pilot saw the endangered big cat last June in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson. The Border Patrol confirmed the sighting on Wednesday after the Arizona Daily Star inquired about it.

State Game and Fish Department spokesman Mark Hart called the sighting “very credible” but not confirmed. That’s because no photographs or video were taken and officials could not find evidence of the cat on the ground.

Last week, Game and Fish confirmed a jaguar sighting in Cochise County on November 19. It was first time since 2009 that one of the big cats was confirmed in the U.S.

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9:13am 11/24/11 — First Jaguar Sighting in 2 Years in Southern Ariz.

More than two years after the death of the country’s only known wild jaguar, a southern Arizona hunting guide spotted an adult male jaguar while hunting in southern Arizona’s Cochise County, according to the Los Angeles Times and the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson.

It was the first confirmed sighting of the endangered cat in the United States since the death of “Macho B”  in March 2009, the Daily Star reported.

Donnie Fenn was mountain lion hunting in Cochise County last weekend with his 10-year-old daughter and a friend when Fenn’s hound dogs raced out of the canyon they were searching, the Benson, Ariz., man told the Daily Star.

“I was nervous, scared, everything. That was an experience I’ll never forget. It was just the aggressiveness — the power it had, the snarling. It wasn’t a snarl like a lion. It was a roar. I’ve never heard anything like it,” the 32-year-old Fenn told the Tucson paper this week.

Fenn said he and his daughter and his hunting dogs spotted the big cat atop two trees from about 200 feet away, the Daily Star said. When he left to contact state Game and Fish officials to seek advice, the jaguar left a mesquite tree and sped away with the hounds in pursuit.

The dogs eventually caught up with the jaguar, who clawed some of them and caused some puncture wounds as he tried to get away, Fenn said.

Macho B was trapped, fitted with a radio collar and released in February 2009, but was captured again a month later and euthanized because of health problems, enraging wildlife advocates, the Los Angeles Times reported.

At a news conference in Tucson Tuesday, Fenn and state game officials declined to specify the jaguar’s location, the Daily Star said.

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