State steps aside in jaguar inquiry

Allows Fish and Wildlife to conduct investigation into Macho B incident
2009-05-01T00:00:00Z State steps aside in jaguar inquiryBy Tim Steller ARIZONA DAILY STAR Arizona Daily Star
May 01, 2009 12:00 am  • 

The Arizona Attorney General's Office no longer is actively investigating the Feb. 18 capture and subsequent euthanization of an endangered jaguar.

The state office stopped its investigation soon after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced April 2 it would launch its own criminal investigation of the jaguar capture, said Anne Hilby, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office.

"So we don't have two agencies doing the same work, we've essentially turned it over to them," Hilby said.

The decision bothered leaders of two environmental groups that have sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its policies on the endangered jaguar.

Eva Sargent, Southwest director of Defenders of Wildlife, said the service is not independent enough to be the only agency investigating the capture and subsequent euthanization of the jaguar, known as Macho B.

"We're really disappointed that the Arizona attorney general dropped out because they seemed like a disinterested party," Sargent said.

Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said that while the law-enforcement branch of the service may do a good investigation, it could also become too focused on whether criminal violations occurred, ignoring significant bureaucratic errors.

In a written statement about the attorney general's decision, Arizona Game and Fish did not object to it.

"The Arizona Game and Fish Department welcomes and is fully cooperating with all federal and state investigations," the statement said in part (see box for complete statement).

Two Game and Fish biologists found Macho B captured in a snare in a remote area northwest of Nogales, Ariz., on Feb. 18. The snares were set as part of a Game and Fish study of bears and mountain lions in the Arizona-Mexico border region.

The biologists checking the snares found the jaguar, sedated him and put a radio collar on him before allowing him to walk away about six hours later. Members of the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project tracked Macho B — the only known wild jaguar in the United States — by Internet. Several days after the capture, the jaguar stopped moving much, and on March 1 a team went looking for him to evaluate his condition.

On March 2, the team was able to recapture Macho B, who was in much worse condition than when initially captured. They flew him to the Phoenix Zoo, where he was determined to have suffered kidney failure and was euthanized.

On March 31, Arizona Game and Fish announced it would investigate the capture. But the next day, April 1, citing new information, the department announced the Attorney General's Office had agreed to take over the investigation.

The day after that, April 2, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its own criminal investigation. That inquiry is looking into all aspects of the incident from events preceding the capture, to the decision to euthanize and whether appropriate permits were in order, said Nicholas Chavez, the special agent in charge of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Southwest law-enforcement office in Albuquerque.

The service's investigation is the top priority for the federal agents pursuing it, he said.

"This will be their main investigation," Chavez said.

The Attorney General's Office will wait to see what the Fish and Wildlife Service inquiry turns up before deciding whether to continue its own investigation, Hilby said.

"If there were unanswered questions, we'd continue," she said.

Arizona Game and Fish statement

At the request of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Arizona Attorney General's Office agreed on April 1 to independently conduct a review of the facts and circumstances related to the initial capture of the jaguar known as Macho B. The following day, April 2, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it had also begun a federal investigation.

Subsequently, the Department was informed that the USFWS and the Arizona Attorney General's Office had talked and the Attorney General's Office deferred to the USFWS, satisfied with the level of investigation intended by the USFWS, although the state's investigation would remain open pending the outcome of the federal investigation.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department welcomes and is fully cooperating with all federal and state investigations.

In the event any federal or state investigation reveals any inappropriate conduct or actions, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission and Department will take appropriate measures.

Contact reporter Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-8427.

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