Arizona officials have captured and placed a tracking collar on a wild jaguar for the first time ever in the United States, the state wildlife agency said Thursday.
The male cat was captured Wednesday southwest of Tucson during a research study concerning mountain lions and black bears. The location of the capture was not released.
While individual jaguars have been photographed sporadically along the Mexican border the past few years, the capture occurred outside the area where the last known photograph of a jaguar was taken in January, state Game and Fish officials said in a press release.
The jaguar was fitted with a satellite tracking collar and then released. The collar will provide biologists with location points every three hours, the press release said. Early tracking indicates the cat is doing well and has already traveled more than three miles from the capture site, the release said.
The jaguar weighs 118 pounds with a thick and solid build, the department said. Field biologists said the cat appeared healthy and hardy.
Game and Fish officials could not be reached Thursday night to answer questions about the capture.
The data produced by the collar will shed light on a little-studied population segment of this species that uses Southern Arizona and New Mexico as the northern extent of its range.
The jaguar has been listed as an endangered species by the federal government since 1997, the year after a Douglas-area rancher spotted the first one seen in the United States for many years.
"While we didn't set out to collar a jaguar as part of the mountain lion and bear research project, we took advantage of an important opportunity," Terry Johnson, endangered species coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said in the news release. "More than 10 years ago, Game and Fish attempted to collar a jaguar with no success. Since then, we've established handling protocols in case we inadvertently captured a jaguar in the course of one of our other wildlife management activities."
The capture didn't surprise Jack L. Childs, project coordinator for the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project, based in Amado. Using remote-sensing cameras, the group has taken 26 photographs of jaguars in the wilds of Southern Arizona.
"We've known we've had jaguars for 100 years in Arizona and we've been documenting it for the past 10 years. This just kind of further verifies that we do have jaguars down here," Childs said.
The study on habitat connectivity for mountain lions and black bears that produced the accidental capture of the jaguar was intended, in part, to analyze the effects of new border fencing on the two large animals, he said.
With this jaguar collared, officials now have a great opportunity to analyze the effects of the fencing. As long as the jaguar remains alive and the collar continues to work, they'll be able to follow the movements of the cat for about two years, he said.
The capture was announced at Thursday's meeting of the Jaguar Conservation Team, a group of scientists, agency officials, private individuals and conservationists seeking to map out an effort to improve the future of the animal in the borderlands area.
Michael Robinson, an environmentalist on the team, said he was happy the jaguar sustained no injuries.