UA, government agencies release 4 photos of jaguar in Santa Ritas

2012-12-21T00:00:00Z 2014-07-15T17:49:55Z UA, government agencies release 4 photos of jaguar in Santa RitasTony Davis Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 21, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Four late-night photos of an adult male jaguar roaming the northern Santa Rita Mountains were released Thursday to the public by University of Arizona researchers and federal and state wildlife officials.

The photos, mostly full-body shots, show the endangered animal in woodlands and grasslands between Oct. 25 and Nov. 10.

They show the only jaguar known to be living in the United States. The last one, known as "Macho B," died in Arizona in March 2009. There hasn't been a female jaguar seen in the U.S. since 1963.

Most jaguars live in Mexico, Central America and South America.

The researchers and agencies also released a fifth photo, of the tail and much of the rear of an adult male ocelot. It was taken Oct. 8 in the Huachuca Mountains, west of Sierra Vista.

These photos were the first of the endangered cat species to come from a new, $771,000, federally financed study by the UA using remote cameras to photograph jaguars and ocelots across Southern Arizona.

Six other photos taken of the same jaguar in the same general area this fall were withheld by Arizona Game and Fish Department officials. Those photos, shot by a Game and Fish camera, contain too many landmarks pointing to the big cat's exact location, said Lynda Lambert, a Game and Fish spokeswoman. Typically, state and federal officials don't like to release exact locations, out of fear that could jeopardize animals' safety.

"Those photos were six frames of one incident, all shot 10 seconds apart," Lambert said. "It would be too easy for someone to pinpoint the location."

The majority of those photos were taken very near or adjacent to the 6,990-acre site of the proposed Rosemont Mine project southeast of Tucson, Fish and Wildlife Service officials have said. All 10 were shot on U.S. Forest Service land, but none inside the mine site, said Jean Calhoun, a Fish and Wildlife Service assistant field supervisor. The Rosemont site is a mixture of public and private land.

This jaguar's spot pattern matches that of a jaguar treed and photographed in November 2011 by a mountain lion hunter in the Whetstone Mountains south of Benson, officials said. Together, these photos offer "clear evidence" that jaguars travel between Arizona's Sky Island mountain ranges, the agencies and researchers said in a news release Thursday.

These 10 photos can't be matched to a September photo of a jaguar tail, taken by a hunter in the Santa Ritas, because the tail in the new photos is obscured, authorities said. But that jaguar is likely the same one that was photographed in October and November, the agencies and researchers said in the news release.

Similarly, spot patterns of the ocelot photographed in the UA study show it's the same male ocelot that was photographed several times in 2011 and 2012, officials said Thursday. The new photo was shot four miles from where the old photos were taken, again showing the cat's ability to move across the landscape.

The purpose of the UA's three-year research project is to set up a "noninvasive, hands-off system" to detect individuals of the two endangered cat species, the researchers said. The cameras, activated by motion sensors, are in areas deemed most likely to detect the cats.

About 150 cameras are in operation now for the study, and 240 will be in place by next spring, the researchers and the wildlife service said.

The cameras lie along the U.S.-Mexican border, from the Baboquivari Mountains on the west to the southwestern New Mexico "boot heel" area south of Lordsburg. A scat-detection dog is also being used by researchers to help them look for jaguar and ocelot scat in areas where a camera detects the animals. UA's Conservation Genetics lab will conduct genetics testing of the scat to verify its species and possibly identify individual cats, the UA news release said.

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

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