Game and Fish large cat guy's comments on scat match Brun's attorney's line

2011-01-24T11:59:00Z 2011-01-26T17:09:45Z Game and Fish large cat guy's comments on scat match Brun's attorney's lineTony Davis Arizona Daily Star
January 24, 2011 11:59 am  • 

Sunday's Star ran a story about a legal brief filed by the attorney for jaguar whistleblower Janay Brun that asserted that her admitted use of jaguar scat on Feb. 4, 2009 likely played no role in luring him into the trap two weeks later.

Read through what I'd like to informally call "The Jaguar Papers," and you'll come across one large cat expert's opinion who matches Brun's attorney Michael Piccarreta's views to a T. Ron Thompson, a longtime cat biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, was one of 16 Game and Fish staffers interviewed back in 2009 and early 2010 for a department internal investigation of the capture. The investigation isn't done.

Authorities are waiting for the feds to end their criminal investigation of the same event. Under that investigation, Brun has been charged with two violations of the federal Endangered Species Act. Her trial is April 4. Her cohort and apparent mentor at the scene where the scat was placed, jaguar camera researcher Emil McCain, has pleaded guilty to an ESA violation.

But Game and Fish has posted on its website redacted transcripts of all the interviews in response to the Star's public records request for them.

On page 14 of Thompson's first interview, on July 14, 2009, the biologist was asked by his interviewer "how does that (Brun's) allegation about sound to you from the standpoint from someone experienced in catching big cats?"

The technique of using scat to attract an animal has not been proven scientifically, Thompson replied.

"There has been no, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no study to where they have had cameras and put scat and then they have had other cameras, random camera settings without scat to see if it -- if one detection, use of scat, would result in a higher detection rate or draw to the animal," said Thompson, who by the way helped recruit jaguar biologist Emil McCain to work for the department snaring lions in the bear-lion study in which Macho B was captured nearly two years ago.

Thompson uses the scat on mountain lions because once a lion reaches Thompson's snare site, "I just want them to visually see a scat laying there, because mountain lions do have scat stations. They are usually big ole tall pine trees, for instance, where two canyons come together. They spray it. They leave their scat. So their scent and it's a visual thing too," the biologist testified.

But jaguars don't use scat stations, Thompson continued.

"You know, I have been all over jaguar country in Mexico and we have never found a scat station," Thompson said.

He said that 200 lab samples collected from Mexico and the borderlands region up here had been touted as jaguar scats but turned out not to be when finally analyzed at a University of Arizona lab.

"And with that, for me, therefore, I would discount the use of scat to attract jaguars, that alone, just the fact that there are no scat stations. I just, quite frankly, I don't see where it's that valid."

Emil McCain, who used jaguar scat both at camera and snare sites, felt that the use of scat would give him and his fellow jag researchers a better chance of landing a jaguar photo, Thompson said.

"It's just never been proven . . . Emil perceived it. He just wouldn't believe it. He wouldn't believe the science that he failed to collect a jaguar scat."

In fact, Thompson went on to say that day that he had personally "just flat asked" McCain if the use of scat increased detection rates on his cameras.

"And he said no," Thompson said of McCain, who has declined all requests for interviews from the Star since Brun first told the paper back in March 2009 that McCain had ordered her to place female jaguar scat at the site where Macho B was eventually trapped. "He said the data, the limited data he's got since 2004 indicates it does not increase detection rates."

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About this blog

Star reporter Tony Davis covers topics in this blog that you have read under his byline for more than 30 years in the Southwest: water, growth, sprawl, pollution, climate change, endangered species, mining, grazing and traffic.

To reach Tony call 806-7746 (office) or 349-0350 (cell) or write him at tdavis@tucson.com.

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