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.