Jaguar ill before 1st capture

But veterinarian says stress of being trapped likely made animal's kidney problem worse
2009-03-05T00:00:00Z Jaguar ill before 1st captureBy Tony Davis Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 05, 2009 12:00 am  • 

The jaguar that was euthanized Monday due to kidney failure clearly had suffered from the disease before his Feb. 18 capture, but the stress of the trapping probably aggravated Macho B's problems, a veterinarian who treated the cat said Wednesday.

"I'm sure the kidneys were going bad for some time. Kidneys don't go bad at the snap of a finger," said Dr. Dean Rice, the Phoenix Zoo's executive vice president. "All they are is filters. As we get older, they don't filter as well."

But the sedative that Arizona Game and Fish researchers gave the cat at the time of capture probably took a toll, Rice said, and the act of trapping and getting him out of the trap may have done so as well.

On Monday, after the jaguar had been recaptured southwest of Tucson, Rice met the animal at a National Guard heliport in Phoenix. Then he rode with the jaguar to the zoo in the back of a Game and Fish truck, a trip that took less than 10 minutes. There, the cat lay in a crate, with a tube in his windpipe allowing him to take in both fluids and anesthetic gases.

If you sedate someone with drugs and the kidneys aren't working, whether it's a human or an animal, the sedative can have a negative effect, Rice said. "My guess is that sedation probably aggravated his kidneys."

How long the jaguar had kidney problems was supposed to have been determined this week from tests of blood samples that researchers for the Game and Fish Department took at the time of capture, in a wooded area southwest of Tucson.

But on Wednesday, the department announced that the blood samples weren't taken in a way that they could be used to analyze health — only DNA can be determined, the department said.

The researchers froze the cat's blood samples for use in DNA analysis, Rice explained.

That was the sampling method approved a few years ago as part of a capture protocol developed by an advisory team of jaguar experts, a department statement said.

Now, authorities hope to get such information in two or three weeks from an analysis of the dead cat's tissue samples. The zoo sent samples of organs such as the adrenal glands, the heart, the liver and the kidneys on Tuesday to the Arizona Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at the University of Arizona.

The failure to get usable blood work triggered concerns from a New Mexico environmentalist and a Willcox biologist whose petition got the jaguar listed as an endangered species in 1997.

"Frankly, I think that obviously was an oversight, in retrospect, of course," said Tony Povilitis, a Willcox-based conservation biologist who runs a small conservation group called Lifenet. "It reflects the narrow approach being used for jaguar conservation. They are so focused on getting a satellite collar on this animal that they were not recognizing they needed more information about his health. . . . We're going to somehow rescue jaguars by doing these kinds of studies instead of getting on with the real work of jaguar recovery."

But a researcher on the team that advised Game and Fish on capturing jaguars said he couldn't second-guess the department. Howard Quigley, a wildlife ecologist, said he wasn't surprised that state researchers couldn't use the blood samples to map the jaguar's health because "they weren't prepared for jaguar capture, this being an inadvertent capture, despite the fact that it was in an area where you might potentially catch a jaguar."

"It was an unplanned, untargeted animal. It's unfortunate they didn't have some of the collection tools, but I wouldn't second-guess them," said Quigley, who is with the Panthera Foundation, a New York City-based conservation group.

"I don't have enough details about the incident to judge the on-the-ground preparations for capture of a jaguar."

The environmentalist Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday called for an independent scientific review by a federally appointed recovery team to determine whether the capture and handling of the jaguar properly accounted for his age and the possibility that he would be more vulnerable to health problems. The review would determine if authorities need to adjust capture methods or whether capture is an acceptable risk, said Michael Robinson, an activist with the center.

This capture wasn't the kind that would have occurred had the federal government done a recovery plan for the jaguar, said Robinson, whose group has sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to force it to prepare such a plan.

"A recovery plan would look at the broader picture — everything from the health of individual cats to the question of the range they need to be considered to be recovered," said Robinson, of Silver City, N.M.

Macho B was captured inadvertently during a research project aimed at capturing mountain lions and black bears, Game and Fish officials have said. He seemed healthy and hardy at the time, officials said. The cat, age 15 or 16, was the last jaguar known to be living in the wild in the United States, officials have said, and was radio-collared to give officials satellite-transmitted data on his movements.

But he was recaptured and flown to the zoo on Monday after officials noted he had slowed down and reduced his foraging. Since the original capture, the jaguar's weight had dropped from 118 to 99.5 pounds, Rice said Wednesday.

Overall, Rice declined to criticize the department. He said that given the rough terrain where the animal was captured, it was admirable that researchers made the efforts they did to take blood samples. He also noted that the cat looked good and that the researchers didn't suspect any problems at the time.

"I'm glad they collared him," Rice said. Otherwise, "he would have just gone off and died somewhere on his own."

Memorial for Macho B

A memorial service for Macho B — and a plea for better protection for his fellow jaguars — will be held from noon to 1 p.m. today outside the offices of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 201 N. Bonita Ave., Suite 141, in Tucson.

In a news release, Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said: "Macho B epitomized the majestic but fragile nature of our Southwestern ecosystems. By speaking out for Macho after he is gone, we fervently hope that our mountains and deserts can still be home to his kin for decades and centuries into the future." The group is organizing the event.

The public is invited to attend.

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

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