Could this photograph show the last wild jaguar left in the US? Or instead, does it suggests that Arizona is home to more of these big cats than we thought?
It was taken on the night of December 1 by a motion-activated camera trap in the Huachuca Mountains near Sierra Vista, southeastern Arizona.
Historically, jaguars could be found throughout large pockets of southwestern United States. However, during the 20th century, their numbers were decimated by overhunting. These big cats are now an unbelievably rare sight in the United States, although they remain notably more common in Central and South America. Since 2011, it was widely believed that the only jaguar left in the US was a large male called El Jefe, which means “the Boss” in Spanish. Earlier this year, researchers released video footage of him (below) in the Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona.
Could this be him again? Wildlife experts can't 100 percent certain yet, however they're optimistic that this photo actually shows a different, unknown individual.
“Preliminary indications are that the cat is a male jaguar and, potentially, an individual not previously seen in Arizona," said Dr Benjamin Tuggle, regional director for the Southwest Region of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, in a statement. "We are working with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to determine if this sighting represents a new individual jaguar.”
On the other hand, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) firmly believes this is indeed a different jaguar.
"We’ve been expecting another jaguar to pop up in southern Arizona for some time now. Congratulations to Fort Huachuca for their good luck in capturing this beautiful animal on film," Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate with the CBD, said in a statement. “Jaguars will keep returning to southern Arizona to repopulate their ancestral homelands. Jaguars belong here, and if we protect the wide-open spaces they need, they will thrive here again. El Jefe has proven that.”