The nation’s only known jaguar, nicknamed “El Jefe” by Tucson middle schoolers, is shown moving about in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson. The cat has been photographed dozens of times but had never been recorded on video.

Center for Biological Diversity

The video footage shows a jaguar padding its way through the brush of the Santa Rita Mountains and climbing nimbly over rocks along a flowing stream.

Conservation CATalyst and the Center for Biological Diversity released the 40-second video Wednesday, saying the jaguar is the only one of its kind living in the wild in the United States and the video was the first time footage of a U.S. jaguar in the wild was released publicly.

“Studying these elusive cats anywhere is extremely difficult, but following the only known individual in the U.S. is especially challenging,” Chris Bugbee, a biologist with Conservation CATalyst who collects data on the jaguar, said in a news release.

“We use our specially trained scat detection dog and spent three years tracking in rugged mountains, collecting data and refining camera sites; these videos represent the peak of our efforts,” Bugbee said.

The adult male jaguar, which has been photographed dozens of times since 2013, was dubbed “El Jefe,” or “The Boss,” in October by Valencia Middle School students, whose mascot is a jaguar.

“Just knowing that this amazing cat is right out there, just 25 miles from downtown Tucson, is a big thrill,” Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in the news release.

“El Jefe has been living more or less in our backyard for more than three years now,” Serraglio said. “It’s our job to make sure that his home is protected and he can get what he needs to survive.”

The video was shot three to four months ago on separate days, Serraglio said in an interview.

“The footage was collected well after it was shot,” Serraglio said. “When you have remote cameras in the field, you only check them so often.”

The video footage shed light on El Jefe’s grooming behavior and gave researchers a sense of his preferred corridors, he said.

“These glimpses into his behavior offer the keys to unlocking the mysteries of these cryptic cats,” Aletris Neils, executive director of Conservation CATalyst, said in the news release.

The conservation groups said the proposed Rosemont Mine in the Santa Rita Mountains would devastate El Jefe’s habitat and set back the recovery of jaguars in the United States.

“At ground zero for the mine is the intersection of three major wildlife corridors that are essential for jaguars moving back into the U.S. to reclaim lost territory,” Serraglio said in the news release. Jaguars are more common in Mexico.

When asked if the release of the video was part of the conservationists’ battle with Rosemont, Serraglio said they “want people to know there are jaguars in Arizona and that they belong here.”

In a statement sent via email, Patrick Merrin, vice president of the Hudbay Rosemont Project, said:

“Our project will sit on roughly 5,000 acres of the 138,760 acres of the Santa Rita mountains, and constitutes a very small fraction of the jaguar’s 50-mile plus range.

“We will continue to work with the federal agencies to establish appropriate conservation and mitigation measures for the jaguar and other plants and animals.”

El Jefe is the only verified jaguar in the country since another jaguar, Macho B, was euthanized in March 2009 after being injured during his capture in the Atascosa Mountains southwest of Tucson.

One of the people involved in the capture pleaded guilty to violating the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Misdemeanor charges were brought against another person involved in the capture but ultimately were dismissed as part of an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Contact Curt Prendergast at 573-4224 or cprendergast@tucson.com. On Twitter: @CurtTucsonStar