In Blogging the Desert's latest excerpt from the Arizona Game and Fish Department's Macho B transcripts, we turn to an account of a mountain lion killing that essentially led the way to jaguar Macho B's capture, nearly two years ago. As told by since-retired Game and Fish biologist Ron Thompson, the story is that then-Game and Fish subcontractor Emil McCain had nabbed and put radio collars on three lions down by the Mexican border as of November 2008 for the state's study of black bear-lion movements in that area.
But in December 2008, someone killed one of those three lions -- a female -- in the Bear Valley area of the Atascosa Mountains, forcing McCain to go back into the field to reopen snares. That led directly to Macho B's capture on Feb. 18, 2009 in a trap that was ostensibly set to snag a bear or lion.
That is Thompson's account, in testimony given to department interviewers on July 14, 2009. Environmentalists struggling to help recover the Mexican wolf have cited this incident in their efforts, still unsuccessful, to prod the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take back radio-transmitters given to cattle ranchers in the wolf reintroduction areas of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico.
In his testimony, Thompson intimates but doesn't say directly that the man who bagged the lion used a transmitter to find her. For now, we are leaving out the alleged lion-killer's name until we have more time to try to track the guy down for a response.
RT: "Then in December they killed the female in the Atascosas, which I guess it happens but it just seems strange that somebody bought a trophy mountain lion hunt and then ended up in Bear Valley and killed a female, radio-collared animal.
Gary Hovatter, Game and Fish's deputy director: Do you know anything about that hunt?
RT: I certainly do . . . It was auctioned off at a Safari International Auction, I believe, and it was by him, or a well-known wildlife vet who is a houndsman here in Phoenix. He is a vet here in Phoenix. He is a hound guy. He does a lot of work for, has done a lot of work for, capture work for Region 4 . . . He was the houndsman who donated the hunt.
GH: If you were going to look for big lions in Arizona, where would you go?
RT: San Carlos. I would go someplace where they're living off some livestock, essentially.
GH. And you would go for a male, I presume?
RT. You would go for a male, but all the sudden GPS data, Emil (McCain) emailed me, and said the GPS data is coming from a country club here in Phoenix, so I called Thorry (Thorry Smith, the G&F wildlife biologist who worked on the lion-bear study and found Macho B in a snare trap nearly two years ago).
GH: Those lions get around.
RT: So I called Thorry because Thorry was coming out of the field at the White Tanks. He was checking snares over there and he said, I'll check it out . . . But do you know what the odds are of driving all the way to Bear Valley and catching a radio-collared mountain lion?
GH: Ron, you're obviously going somewhere with this?
RT: I was really -- I was mad, first of all. I called (the lion-killer). I said -- he actually came in to check on the lion. I said, you know, you portrayed this as a trophy hunt and you went out and raped and killed one of the radio collared female that weighed -- that you then told the hunter it weighed 100 pounds. That's what the hunter told us. I said, you know, it had just been weighed (the lion-killer). You know, it weighed 50 to 55 pounds. You knew that.
Well, you know, this guy was -- he was old and I had to take him someplace where he could get around and I had to get easy access to a mountain lion. That's what he told me.
Craig McMullen (Another Game and Fish interviewer): Oh my goodness.
GH: What do you think?
RT: He has been on lots of capture projects where they they've used our receivers to catch mountain lions. That's what I think.
GH: You think he . . .
RT: I don't know if it was -- you know, again, I can't accuse people without --
GH: No. I understand.
RT: But I don't like the smell of it.
GH: Let me ask you what -- an explanation that would fit the facts that would be among the many, one would be that a guy has a hunter that is not very mobile, not very picky, and he has a -- he knows the frequencies we work in and transmitters, anybody can get them, or receivers, and so he takes a guy to an easy kill?
RT: Yup. He did. That's pretty well a good way to explain it. I don't know if he -- he just did. And he was aware of the border project study. . . . You know, I don't know what equipment he had. Someone should have, probably should have talked to the hunter about that.
But that aside, I think that was kind of the, quite frankly, coincidentally, the single most thing that resulted in Macho B's capture.
GH: The removal of that lion?
RT: Yeah. Because they wanted the lions acorss that border and they caught that animal right in an area where Macho B had been ranging. Therefore, I think they were pretty much done with that. They could have bypassed it and jumped onto another area. It was just something that kept people there that was unfortunate.
GH: Did you discuss y our hunches with any of our law enforcement guys on that?
RT: Yes, I did. I indicated to a couple of officers, I think.
McMullen: Probably nothing to prosecute about.
RT: There isn't.
GH: Well, using a transmitter to take a lion is not illegal?