For the first time, viewers are getting the chance to glimpse the secretive world of ‘El Jefe.’

In a video released Wednesday by Conservation CATalyst and the Center for Biological Diversity, the jaguar can be seen walking through a forest and across a stream in the Santa Rita Mountains just outside Tucson.

“These glimpses into his behavior offer the keys to unlocking the mysteries of these cryptic cats” Aletris Neils, executive director of Conservation CATalyst, said in a statement. “We are able to determine he is an adult male jaguar, currently in prime condition. Every new piece of information is important for conserving northern jaguars and we look forward to building upon on these data so that we can collectively make better decisions on how to manage these fascinating and endangered cats.”

Jaguars, which are the third-largest cats in the world after tigers and lions – once lived throughout the American Southwest, with historical reports on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the mountains of Southern California and as far east as Louisiana. But the endangered cat has gradually disappeared from its U.S. range over the past 150 years, mostly due to habitat loss and hunting efforts at the behest of the livestock industry.

“Studying these elusive cats anywhere is extremely difficult, but following the only known individual in the U.S. is especially challenging,” Chris Bugbee, a biologist with Conservation CATalyst, said. “We use our specially trained scat detection dog and spent three years tracking in rugged mountains, collecting data and refining camera sites; these videos represent the peak of our efforts.”

CATalyst and the Center for Biological Diversity are hoping the video motivates officials in Arizona to offer greater protection to jaguars as well as ocelots. The hope is that El Jefe will be joined by other jaguars that wander up from Mexico, a goal that increased in likelihood after the Center helped secure more than 750,000 acres of federally protected critical habitat for U.S. jaguar recovery.

“Just knowing that this amazing cat is right out there, just 25 miles from downtown Tucson, is a big thrill,” Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate with the Center, said. “El Jefe has been living more or less in our backyard for more than three years now. It’s our job to make sure that his home is protected and he can get what he needs to survive.”

El Jefe has been photographed repeatedly by remote sensor cameras in the Santa Ritas over the past few years. He is the only verified jaguar in the United States, since Macho B was euthanized as a result of injuries suffered in March 2009.

The confirmed presence of El Jefe could help rally opposition against a huge copper mine in the area being proposed by a Canadian company. Opponents of the mine fear it could permanently destroy thousands of acres of federal protected jaguar habitat while supporters said it could give a much needed boost to Arizona’s economy – which has long depended upon mining.

“The Rosemont Mine would destroy El Jefe’s home and severely hamstring recovery of jaguars in the United States,” Serraglio said. “At ground zero for the mine is the intersection of three major wildlife corridors that are essential for jaguars moving back into the U.S. to reclaim lost territory. The Santa Rita Mountains are critically important to jaguar recovery in this country, and they must be protected.”

More from FoxNews Science:

  • Community on edge after homeowner finds anaconda in backyard

  • Coyotes staring down drivers may be high on mushrooms

  • Scientists give new lease on life for near-extinct Hawaiian crow

Article first appeared on