Accounts conflict on how jaguar was trapped

2010-04-18T00:00:00Z 2014-07-15T17:56:56Z Accounts conflict on how jaguar was trappedTony Davis Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 18, 2010 12:00 am  • 

A research technician lied when she said she put jaguar scat at the site where the nation's last known wild jaguar was trapped, said the state biologist who was fired last month for his role in the capture.

But in an interview with the Star on Saturday, the research technician, Janay Brun, stood by her story.

During interviews with the state Game and Fish Department, biologist and wildlife technician Thornton W. "Thorry" Smith said repeatedly that neither he nor the department had intended to capture a jaguar, but that he believed the department had a legal permit for such a capture.

Game and Fish officials have maintained Macho B was accidentally caught in a trap meant to snare bears or mountain lions.

Smith's comments came from a transcript of interviews Game and Fish made public late last week. Smith was interviewed seven times in person and on the phone from July 14, 2009, to Jan. 25, 2010.

In the transcript, the department blacked out Smith's answers to two questions about the potential involvement of other Game and Fish employees in the capture of Macho B. It was one of many redactions the department did, out of what it said was its concern about compromising its ongoing investigation of the capture.

Distance an issue

Smith and Brun do not differ over whether jaguar scat was planted to lure Macho B near the traps. Their disagreement is over whether it was put at the trap or at cameras placed nearby.

The jaguar slowed down the week after his Feb. 18, 2009, capture and radio-collaring in an oak woodland area southwest of Tucson. He was recaptured and euthanized on March 2.

In interview excerpts previously released by Game and Fish, Smith admitted that he lied to federal investigators about whether female jaguar scat was placed at two camera sites near where Macho B was captured. Smith, who was fired on March 19 for not telling the truth, also acknowledged that he and biologist Emil McCain concocted a false story that no scat had been placed where traps were being set, according to excerpts Game and Fish released the day it fired him.

But Smith told Game and Fish investigators July 14 that Brun "just made it up" in late March 2009 when she told the Arizona Daily Star she had baited the trap site with female scat - in the presence of Smith and McCain - to lure the male jaguar, the newly released transcript says.

Smith's was the first of 13 transcripts of Game and Fish employee interviews the department said Friday it will release in the coming weeks in response to a public records request from the Star. It will release edited versions because its investigation won't end until the federal government finishes a separate criminal investigation, the department said.

Blacked out from Smith's interviews:

• His July 14 response to the question, "Are there other department folks that you have any knowledge of being involved in that?," an apparent reference to Macho B's capture.

• His Aug. 4 response to the question, "Are you sacrificing yourself to protect anyone in this?"

Under the conditions set by Game and Fish for the interviews, Smith can't be prosecuted for anything he said, the transcript says.

No SCat at trap site

On March 31, the day after Smith and others at Game and Fish learned of Brun's statements, Smith left a phone message with Brun telling her there was no scat left at the trap site, "and that's the truth as far as I … " His interviewer interrupted Smith at that point in a session on July 15.

Later in the same interview, Smith said that Brun, a research technician for the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project, had walked with him and McCain past various jaguar snare trap sites and a series of camera sites on Feb. 4, 2009, two weeks before Macho B was found in the trap. But there was no discussion of scat left at the eventual trap site, Smith said.

On Feb. 10, Brun made no mention of the scat when she took Smith to an area south of Arivaca where she knew a male mountain lion was living, Smith said.

Also, nowhere in Smith's interview does he say he believes jaguar scat was placed near the traps to lure Macho B, as Brun has alleged.

But on Aug. 4, 2009, when an interviewer asked Smith if he thought it was clear that McCain intended to capture a jaguar, Smith replied: "I would think. I don't know if he's . . ." Smith said, before the questioner interrupted him.

Later in the interview, Smith's questioner pointed out that McCain had sent out an early e-mail saying he "had already set the snares in the most jag friendly way possible."

In reply, Smith described "jag friendly" to mean that the snare was rigged to put the jaguar on a short leash, adding, "if you had a long leash on that cat, it would just break his arms or he could destroy himself."

In another interview, he said the trap was not "jaguar-specific."

"I did not lie"

On Saturday, Brun, whose allegations triggered the federal criminal investigation, said, "I did not lie about scat at the snare site.

"Thorry and Emil were facing one another, less than a foot apart, working on the last snare of the day, the one that caught Macho B, when Emil told me to place the scat out. … There is no way Thorry could not have heard that unless he went magically deaf for 10 seconds," Brun said.

McCain has already disputed Brun's account.

"It will always be my word versus theirs," Brun said Saturday. "I knew this when I came forward."

It would be easy to dismiss her because she's not affiliated with Game and Fish, and was not part of the study of mountain lions and bears in which Macho B was captured, Brun said. But she said she should be believed because unlike Smith, she hasn't changed her story and "I am not hiding behind some form of immunity; it didn't take me months to come forward."

During Smith's July 15 interview, he said he thought Brun lied about the jaguar scat because she was heartbroken things didn't work out for Macho B, "and she wanted to make sure that no one ever dealt with a jaguar like that again."

He said he thinks Brun, who has recalled seeing Macho B more than a decade ago in the Coyote Mountains southwest of Tucson, "was just infatuated with the animal and she was really tied to it emotionally."

Brun acknowledged she was emotionally attached to Macho B and had followed his trail for a decade.

"I was arrogant in believing I knew him so well I could predict he wouldn't return to the area where the snare sites were located, so soon after his last visit, and therefore wouldn't be captured."

She should have done more to prevent his capture, she said: "I have to live with that for the rest of my life."

Contact reporter Tony Davis at 806-7746 or tdavis@azstarnet.com Follow Tony Davis on Twitter at tonydavis987

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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