Defense: Scat wasn't factor in jaguar-snaring

2011-01-23T00:00:00Z 2014-07-15T17:52:56Z Defense: Scat wasn't factor in jaguar-snaringTony Davis Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 23, 2011 12:00 am  • 

When research technician Janay Brun admitted in 2009 to leaving jaguar scat at the site where jaguar Macho B was later captured, she said she felt she had helped cause the big cat's eventual death.

Jaguars and other cats use scents as a way to communicate, and female jaguar feces may attract male jaguars, experts have said.

"That jaguar meant a lot to me, and the fact that I mindlessly participated in this - it's a regret I'll have for the rest of my life," Brun said in a March 2009 interview with the Arizona Daily Star.

But today, facing criminal charges, Brun is saying quite the opposite through her attorney: that her placement of the jaguar scat likely didn't play much of a role in leading the aged jaguar into a snare trap.

Brun has been charged by federal prosecutors with illegally "taking" a jaguar and conspiracy to take a jaguar, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. She is scheduled for trial April 4.

Last jaguar in U.S. wild

Macho B was the last jaguar known to live in the wild in the United States. Early in 2009 he had been photographed south of Arivaca, near the Mexican border, by remote cameras run by the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project, a nonprofit organization for which Brun and researcher Emil McCain worked.

On Feb. 4 that year, Arizona Game and Fish Department biologist Thorry Smith and McCain, who had worked as a subcontractor for the department, opened snares in the area. They were trying to capture black bears and mountain lions for a state study of those species' movements near the border.

At the same time - at McCain's request - Brun placed jaguar scat near the camera sites, her defense attorney, Michael Piccarreta, wrote in his motion to dismiss the charges against her, which is pending before a federal magistrate.

Macho B was captured in one of the snares Feb. 18, 2009, collared and released. Game and Fish Department officials said the capture was inadvertent.

But the state soon recaptured the jaguar - because the radio collar showed his movements in the wild were dramatically slowing down - and he was euthanized, dying at the Phoenix Zoo on March 2, 2009.

In his motion to dismiss Brun's charges, Piccarreta wrote that it was the opening of the snares that led directly to Macho B's original capture - not Brun's placement of the jaguar scat.

"Ms. Brun did not believe, as do many in the scientific community, that the placement of the scat would, in fact, attract a jaguar to the camera location," Piccarreta wrote. "It was thought that if the jaguar were in the location, it might notice the scat and slow its travel allowing for a better picture, although the scientific basis was uncertain."

In reply, the U.S. Attorney's Office argued this month that issues such as the scat's effect on the capture are not relevant to the motion to dismiss and must be decided by a jury when Brun goes to trial.

"She is being charged with attempting to take an endangered species," said the U.S. attorney's response to the motion to dismiss. "The act of placing scat at a snare site in and of itself is an attempt to take an endangered species."

Feels responsible

At a federal court hearing last week on the motion to dismiss, Piccarreta said Brun still feels a sense of responsibility for what happened to the jaguar, but legally isn't responsible.

"She feels responsible by being in those events, and relying on McCain and Game and Fish that everything out there was kosher," Piccarreta said.

McCain pleaded guilty last May to capturing the jaguar in violation of the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Brun, paid $700 to $800 a month by the nonprofit jaguar detection project, played no role in placing the snares or in any other part of Game and Fish's study of bears and lions for which the snares were placed, Piccarreta wrote. "Her duties related solely to the ... cameras."

At the time Brun gave her 2009 interview to the Star, McCain and others said Jaguar Detection Project workers had in the past used female jaguar scat to attract jaguars. In 2004, project workers began placing scat at locations of motion-sensing cameras where they were attempting to photograph jaguars, two former volunteers said.

But in his motion to dismiss Brun's charges, Piccarreta wrote that many research biologists conclude that scat is not an attractant that should be used at snare sites. Indeed, there is no evidence that the scat caused Macho B's capture, or that he had any interest in the scat, Piccarreta wrote.

The jaguar had walked directly through another snare location that had no scat shortly before his capture, but that snare didn't snag the animal because humans had tampered with it, Piccarreta wrote.

It was the decision to use the snares, "not the scat, that captured Macho B, a decision way above Ms. Brun's pay grade but well within numerous other state officials and possibly federal officials' purview," the defense attorney said.

Contact reporter Tony Davis at tdavis@azstarnet.com or 806-7746.

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

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