Authorities plan to re-evaluate how they capture jaguars in light of this week's death of Macho B, but they won't let that death stop them from trying to capture another of the big cats.
On Thursday, three days after Macho B was put down because of advanced kidney failure following his capture and recapture, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official said that "when the right opportunity presents itself, we will again seek to collar and monitor a jaguar."
"Whether capturing and handling birds, fish or jaguar, we acknowledge that there are risks to individual animals," the service's Steve Spangle said at an agency press briefing in Tucson on Macho B's death. "We weigh those risks against the benefit that research-acquired knowledge can provide to the survival of the whole species. We need to acquire data to inform wise management decisions for jaguars."
But environmentalists, who held a memorial for the animal right after the news briefing, said it makes no sense to try to capture another jaguar when there is still no recovery plan for the embattled species. The service has refused to do a recovery plan, but environmentalists have filed a lawsuit challenging the decision.
"The price for this research and our need to know more is already too high," said Sergio Avila, a Sky Island Alliance biologist. "At some point, dignity and respect has to play a bigger role, just as we would expect our elders to be treated. It's not up to agency personnel to call this; it's up to the law, and the law requires a recovery plan for the species."
At the briefing, Spangle — along with a veterinarian who examined the jaguar before its euthanization, a Arizona Game and Fish Department biologist and a Game and Fish commissioner — defended the state agency's performance when handling Macho B and said its critics are wrong. Macho B, age 15 or 16, was the oldest jaguar known in the wild and the last jaguar known to be living in the United States.
The Game and Fish Department is having a jaguar advisory team of scientists review its protocols for capturing the cat "to see if it needs tweaking," said Bill Van Pelt, the department's non-game birds and mammals program manager. He said the scientists have leeway to recommend if the department should hold off on future captures. But he and Spangle emphasized that the jaguar died as a result of the kidney failure and not the capture.
Dr. Dean Rice, a veterinarian who treated Macho B, has said that the capture could have contributed to or sped up the cat's death. But he said at the briefing that the animal would have died "in a matter of time, the next two months for sure," without capture, because of its kidney failure.
At the memorial, a Center for Biological Diversity official said that the animal will not have died in vain if his death leads the Fish and Wildlife Service to produce a recovery plan. Center for Biological Diversity officials turned over to the service dozens of e-mails from its members supporting a plan.
"A recovery plan will ensure that behavioral and habitat information from capturing and radio-collaring jaguars will help recover jaguars and protect their homes," said member Laura Herndon of Burbank, Calif. "Recovery plans are road maps for bringing endangered species from the brink of extinction to a secure existence. For jaguars, that means more than just a handful of animals in a tiny portion of their original range."
About 60 people attended the memorial rally, held along the Santa Cruz River near Downtown and across the street from the Fish and Wildlife Service Tucson office, where the press briefing occurred.
"We need to ensure that jaguars can come back and to protect any other jaguars still there," said the center's Michael Robinson.
In an e-mail to a center member Thursday, Game and Fish said it "fully supports" a recovery plan and hinted that with a new federal administration in office, "more recovery plans may be developed more quickly."
But in discussion with center officials after the rally, the service's Spangle said the agency isn't changing its stance.
"Our position is in the courts, and that's our position," said Spangle, referring to an upcoming March 23 hearing over the recovery plan lawsuit. "We believe there are other tools to protect the jaguar besides regulation."
In 1976, a mysterious animal was blamed for killing up to 50 dogs in the city's northwest area. Witnesses said it was a large black cat, and many believed it to be a jaguar. Read about this is Tales From the Morgue at go.azstarnet.com/bigblackcat