How many jaguars do you think there are in the United States? If you’re anything like me, you’re probably saying something like “what is this, a joke? Jaguars in the United States? Yeah, right!”. However, believe it or not, there’s actually at least one jaguar known to have lived in Arizona within the past ten years.
El Jefe, a male jaguar known to be at least 12 years old, is the only known jaguar living in the United States. Unfortunately, for the last seven years, his whereabouts have been completely unknown, but the Center for Biological Diversity confirmed that El Jefe has been spotted alive and well in Sonora, Mexico.
“We still know so little about jaguars, especially in the northern portion of their range. But with hundreds of detections and data points for El Jefe, we know more about him than any other jaguar in the U.S. Every new piece of information is essential for conserving northern jaguars, and we still have much to learn from this magnificent cat.” – Executive Director of Conservation CATalyst Dr. Aletris Neils, according to the Center for Biological Diversity
Unfortunately, the recent confirmation of El Jefe’s whereabouts does not necessarily mean he will make the return to Arizona, and recent changes to the border region’s geography makes his return much more difficult. For one, recently built border wall segments have closed off several of the few remaining corridors used by jaguars to travel into the United States, and two other jaguars who appeared to be traveling into Arizona were blocked by the wall fairly recently. Furthermore, El Jefe’s home range in the Santa Rita mountains has already seen significant damage from the Hudbay’s Copper World Mine, and the proposed Rosemont Copper mine threatens to destroy his home even more.
“I love knowing that a massive, beautiful cat like El Jefe traveled hundreds of miles, crossed the border at least twice, and went virtually undetected for the last seven years. We can’t allow El Jefe’s territory to be carved up for a copper mine. Arizona’s Sky Islands, including the Santa Ritas, are critical habitat for jaguars and key to their survival in the U.S.” – Southwest conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity Russ McSpadden, according to the Center for Biological Diversity
Eventually, it’s likely that El Jefe will leave the breeding population in Mexico and attempt a return to Arizona. When he does so, we can only hope he makes it, continuing the jaguar population in the United States for years to come.
The following footage shows El Jefe in 2016, and was the first video footage taken of the massive cat.
Image Credit: Conservation CATalyst on YouTube