The first photo showed just a tail, but new photos show an entire jaguar in the Santa Rita Mountains.
Ten photos of a male jaguar have been taken recently in the northern Santa Ritas, a federal official said. The photos, at least some of which show the jaguar's entire body, were shot from Oct. 25 to Nov. 12, most near the proposed Rosemont Mine site, by four remote cameras.
One camera is run by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Three are from a federally financed jaguar research project run by University of Arizona researchers, said Jean Calhoun, who manages the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Tucson office.
These are the first jaguar pictures from the UA research project, which started operations across Southern Arizona this year.
The photos of the jaguar, listed since 1997 as an endangered species, came after a hunter's remote camera captured a jaguar tail in that same area in September.
The photos were taken in semidesert grassland and in Madrean evergreen woodland, which contains a mix of oak, pine and juniper trees. Information about the jaguar's age, size and other features, along with the pictures, weren't available last week.
All 11 photos, including that of the tail, were taken inside the proposed 838,000-acre federal critical habitat for the jaguar, Calhoun said. Like the mine issue, the debate over the jaguar critical habitat plan has been fierce, with environmental groups wanting it expanded and Rosemont Copper and Game and Fish opposing it.
A team of experts from Game and Fish, the UA and the service concluded that the 10 recent shots showed the same jaguar, Calhoun said. They've also concluded that this jaguar is the one photographed in November 2011 by a hunter in the Whetstone Mountains, in Cochise County southeast of Tucson, she said.
That jaguar was the first confirmed sighting of the large cat since Macho B was euthanized in March 2009 at age 15 or 16, after being captured, radio-collared, released and recaptured after his conditioned weakened.
In June 2011, a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter pilot saw a large, spotted cat he thought was a jaguar in the Santa Ritas on the north face of Mount Wrightson. That sighting was never confirmed.
But researchers aren't sure if the jaguar in the new pictures is the same as the one in the jaguar tail shot, said Calhoun, an assistant field supervisor for the wildlife service.
"The issue with the jaguar tail is that there's just so little of it. There's not enough there to make a determination," said Larry Riley, Game and Fish's assistant director for wildlife management.
It makes sense that there's been so many jaguar photos taken there because the cameras have been put in areas where the animal has been observed, Riley said.
"He kind of likes that area," Calhoun said. "It is very exciting. We are very hopeful that the animal will remain as safe as possible."
The jaguar tail was photographed "pretty darned close" and adjacent to the 6,990-acre Rosemont mine project area, Coronado National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch said last month.
Fish and Wildlife was due to complete a biological opinion on Dec. 20 on the mine's impact on the big cat and nine other endangered and threatened species known to live on or near the mine site. But because the Forest Service needs to finish its second supplemental report to its original June report on the mine's biological impacts, the biological opinion has been postponed, Calhoun said.
"Our timeline depends on when they get it to us," Calhoun said of the Forest Service.
She said she can't speculate on the wildlife service's possible conclusions on any of the 10 photos - "We're still in the process of going through that analysis."
The photos drive home the importance of the mine area and the Santa Ritas as critical jaguar habitat, said Kieran Suckling, director of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. He pronounced these photos "the end of the line for the Rosemont mine."
"I just don't see how the mine can go forward with one of the most endangered species in Arizona living right there," Suckling said.
The mine's impacts on wildlife, unlike those of a development, can't be mitigated, added Randy Serraglio, a center conservation advocate.
"With a development, you can leave open space and arrange it differently to preserve wildlife. You can't do that with an open-pit copper mine," Serraglio said.
Last month, a mining company consultant, Westland Resources, wrote a report saying the $1.2 billion project isn't likely to affect the jaguar species or the critical habitat, even though it could affect an individual jaguar.
The mine won't affect the entire species because the odds are low of female jaguars in the U.S., and because the influence of U.S. jaguars on Sonoran populations, where female jaguars live, is small, Westland said.
Westland also said the mine is not likely to have much impact on jaguar critical habitat because the mine area represents such a small proportion of it. The proposed habitat area is larger than the state of Rhode Island.
In a statement Friday, Rosemont Copper Vice President Jamie Sturgess said a solitary male jaguar like this one doesn't represent the species' future. The range of reproducing jaguars, which requires males and females, runs from South America through Central America and into Northern Mexico, he said.
"Southern Arizona is not important jaguar habitat. It is fringe country, where noncompetitive and non-breeding males wander around," said Sturgess, Rosemont Copper's senior vice president for corporate development and government affairs. "We agree with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, whose staff do not think of this area as critical to the conservation of the jaguar species."
Environmentalists have said the Fish and Wildlife Service's critical habitat proposal needs to be expanded, since jaguars once roamed as far north in Arizona as the Grand Canyon.
Game and Fish will take some time to review the new photos, said spokesman Mark Hart.
"Our role is to provide the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service and the folks proposing the mine the best information we can to inform their decisions," Game and Fish's Riley said.
But as a wildlife biologist, Riley said he thinks "it's kind of cool" that a jaguar is living in the Santa Ritas.
"I enjoy wildlife," he said. "I would find it interesting that there are jaguars in that area just as I'm interested if there is any other kind of wildlife there."
"We agree with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, whose staff do not think of this area as critical to the conservation of the jaguar species."
Rosemont Copper's senior vice president for corporate development and government affairs
Contact Tony Davis at email@example.com or 806-7746.