This week marks the second anniversary of an event that was at first a cause for celebration but then became a tragedy. Macho B, this country’s last known wild jaguar, was discovered in a snare trap in the Atascosa Mountains near the Mexican border two years ago yesterday. To mark that anniversary, Blogging the Desert presents quotes from the Arizona Game and Fish Department officials on their reactions to learning of the capture. The quotes come from transcripts from 2009 of the department’s continuing internal investigation of the incident, one of two such investigations. The other is being conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement.
1.Ron Thompson, since-retired large cat biologist, the department official to whom Game and Fish wildlife biologist Thorry Smith first told of the capture after Smith and a colleague saw: “We were at my dad’s. My dad was kind of sick so we were at his house having dinner. My phone rang and I looked at it. . . I walked outside and said hello and it was Thorry (Smith, the biologist who first saw and anesthetized the captured jaguar). I could tell he was upset. . . He expressed the stress that a biologist experiences doing a capture and afterwards until you determine what the animal’s condition is, post-release. I congratulated him on the safe release of the animal. He told me he felt he had overestimated the weight, but had handled the capture to the best of his ability, the recommended use of (anesthetic) Telazol as preferred capture drug.”
2. Bill Van Pelt, nongame birds and mammals program manager: “No, I was back, but I was just getting back into the thing. So that is when I got handed the note from Bob Miles (a Game and Fish public information officer) we need you in the Cardinal Room and so forth. So . . . I guess this is my question that I have not been able to ask. Ron Thompson clearly recognized who the lead is for this -- for jaguars. You look at the historical emails and so forth, you know, he does a lot of work down in Mexico. I don’t understand to this day why Ron didn’t say, Thorry, you better call Terry Johnson (the department’s endangered species coordinator) now.
Interviewer: “You know for sure Ron didn’t or just we are not sure?
VP: “I am 99.9 percent certain on that.”
Interviewer: “What makes you so certain on that, Bill?”
VP: “Talking to Thorry.”
3. Terry Johnson, endangered species coordinator, who learned of the capture a day after it occurred: “I can remember when Kennedy was shot. I can remember when the Challenger blew up, you know, the wheres and whys and the whats and these sorts of things, ad the birth of my two boys, that sort of stuff, and where I proposed to my wife, and I will remember forever how I learned about the capture of that jaguar and where I was and how stunned I was that there was even any possibility to capture the jaguar out there, and we were doing snare work.
Interviewer: “And the person who told you was?”
TJ: “Jack Childs (founder of Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project, a non-profit group that has photographed jaguars in Southern Arizona using remote cameras), who had just gotten off the phone with Emil McCain (Childs’ partner at BJDP), who was calling from Spain. . . And I was pissed. I was pissed. I was pissed at myself. I was pissed at my agency. I had to tell Fish and Wildlife Service, Aaron Fernandez, before this meeting starts in 30 seconds. Hey guess what, Aaron, we just captured a jaguar, and it is -- we don’t know whether it is Macho B or it is not. We don’t know the circumstances. I don’t know. . . what I didn’t do that I should have done was tell people I don’t know the facts of the capture, and I am not going to address those facts.
“What I did that was completely stupid is say, we have got employees who are trained in wildlife capture. We have got jaguar protocols that exist. We have got our permits in place. I believe my agency has been doing everything that it should have been doing on the 18th and 19th despite the fact that I knew that I had not been notified the way I should have been notified.”
4. Michelle Crabb, a wildlife biologist who was with Thorry Smith when the jaguar was discovered in a snare: “Holy shit.”
5. Kirby Bristow, a Game and Fish research biologist who ran its study of black bears and mountain lions during which the jaguar was captured. He was asked by his interviewer, deputy Game and Fish director Gary Hovatter, how he learned of the capture.
KB: “Thorry called me on the cell phone and it was about 6 p.m. on that day.”
GH: :On the day of the capture?”
KB: “Yeah. The 18th, I think.”
GH: After he called you, what did you do with the information?
KB: “Well, he had told me that he had talked to Ron Thompson so I knew that it had gone up the chain of command and that the proper authorities like Fish and Wildlife Service had been, or I assumed had been alerted, and so I just called Chasa O’Brien (Bristow’s supervisor, the department’s research branch chief).”
GH: “So you called her that night?”
KB: I think I called her the following morning actually. And then it wasn’t long after that I realized that indeed the word had gotten out.
GH: “Just, and I need to ask you that, Kirby, obviously, again, this is one of those it’s hard to separate out the hindsight. In hindsight, this was a much more than normally important animal. Was there -- was there a reason why you didn’t -- didn’t see the need or have a concern about getting that word up to Chasa that night?”
KVB:” In hindsight, like you say, I probably should have called her that evening. And I wasn’t particularly thrilled that it happened. So maybe that clouded my decision, but I don’t recall weighing the option in my mind of whether I should call her right now or whether I should call her in the morning.”
6, Chantal “Chasa” O’Brien: “And when Kirby called me on Thursday (Feb. 19, 2009) to say, oh, by the way, have you heard yet we captured a jaguar yesterday and we collared it? I was like, what? We talked about this. We discussed this. And so I was surprised to find out we even had a collar on the animal because the last conversation I had had with Kirby was, you know, in June or May whenever we had department school in 2008 was no collar on any jaguar.”
Later in her testimony, she continued, “Well, I knew they were capturing lions, and he said, oh well, we captured, you know, a jaguar yesterday in one of our snares.And my first thought was whoa. You know, oh, my goodness. I thought we talked about this, Kirby. And a kind of, this happened yesterday, why didn’t I receive a call yesterday?”
Interviewer: “What was his answer to that?”
COB: “Well, I didn’t ask
him that question. I was more like, okay, I have people I need to
tell about this.”