Legacy of Macho B is protection for his kind

2009-03-16T00:00:00Z Legacy of Macho B is protection for his kindBy Emil B. McCain Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Macho B lived a long and magnificent life in a vast and magnificent wilderness. His presence will be missed greatly. But we need to remember one thing. In his final days, he placed his foot into a snare and gave us a great gift, a gift that will help us to ensure a future for his kind, and quite possibly his offspring, in Southern Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico.

His capture drew international attention to this unique and valuable treasure of the Sierra Madre Mountains of northern Sonora, Mexico and the Sky Islands of Arizona and New Mexico.

He gave us his valuable DNA, a first for modern science, which will give us genetic information about his origin, his relatedness to other jaguars and thus the viability of borderlands jaguars. Macho B has completed his work for the conservation of borderlands jaguars. His death is terribly sad. But it is now up to us to cherish and learn from Macho B's gift, and we must work hard toward conservation for the continued presence of his kind in our wild country.

Macho B was the oldest known wild jaguar in history and that is a clear testament to the habitat quality here in Southern Arizona. The fact that this jaguar was able to survive in this habitat longer than any other jaguar in any other habitat not only confirms that jaguars can indeed thrive here, but also that a huge network of public and private lands is currently being managed in a healthy and sustainable way.

But that landscape and that collaborative conservation network is fragile, and we must do everything in our power to maintain that habitat for this magnificent cat.

Macho B roamed over large portions of southern Arizona for 15 or 16 years, yet to the best of our knowledge, he was only ever seen twice. It remains unknown how many other jaguars may remain unseen within or partially within Arizona and New Mexico.

So far the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project has only surveyed 12 percent of the potential habitat in Arizona, and there is more in New Mexico.

One important aspect of big-cat biology is territoriality, especially in adult males. We know Macho B was a territorial male from the videos we obtained of him exhibiting three different territorial scent-marking behaviors. When a jaguar's territory becomes empty, it is often filled by another younger male.

It is quite possible that another jaguar will take over Macho B's territory. However, with no confirmed reproduction in the U.S. since the 1920s, the jaguar presence here is entirely dependent upon dispersal from northern Mexico. That means we must maintain habitat connectivity across the border and insure their safety in northern Mexico. We clearly have a lot of work to do.

Macho B has become an international ambassador for jaguar conservation. As we grieve the great cat's very unfortunate death, we must not place blame or let this divide us. He has pulled many diverse sources together for a common goal. On his behalf, I urge us all to keep that momentum moving forward, beyond political interests and international boundaries and beyond the life-span of one individual.

I am comforted by the fact that his last sights and conscious thoughts where high on a mountain overlooking his favorite haunts. May his spirit roam there forever, and may his descendants as well.

Write to Emil B. McCain at emilmccain@gmail.com

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

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