The only jaguar known to still be living in the wild in this country was euthanized late Monday afternoon after being recaptured and found to have advanced kidney failure, state officials said.
The cat, known as Macho B, age 15 or 16, was euthanized at the Phoenix Zoo a few hours after he had been captured Monday afternoon in Southern Arizona's oak woodlands. That recapture had occurred 12 days after the state Game and Fish Department had first captured the animal inadvertently in an undisclosed area southwest of Tucson as part of an effort to catch and study mountain lions and bears.
Stress from the original capture could have contributed to the kidney failure, a federal agency spokesman said late Monday. A Game and Fish official would not comment on that possibility until the results of blood tests taken on the animal at the time of the first capture are reviewed.
The jaguar looked healthy and hardy at the time he was caught on Feb. 18, in an oak woodland area within 20 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border. Biologists put a radio collar on him, allowing his movements to be tracked by satellite, and they said they had been getting excellent data that helped them understand more about a jaguar's activities.
But by last weekend, data from the collar showed reduced movements and less foraging for food. At the time he was recaptured — five miles from the original capture site — biologists noted that the animal had lost weight and was exhibiting an abnormal gait, the Game and Fish Department said in a news release.
Today, results from blood tests made after the first capture should show if he had kidney failure then.
"It is our understanding that renal failure is manifest in older cats, as well as cats who have been put under stress that would be a result from a capture or being caught in a leg snare," said Jeff Humphrey, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman.
Bill Van Pelt, Game and Fish's non-game birds and mammals program manager, said: "I'm going to wait to see what the results are from the blood at the time of capture. I don't like to speculate; I like to have information. It was definitely the oldest jaguar ever collared, and it is not too uncommon even in captivity for a cat of this age to have kidney issues — a jaguar, tiger or lion."
The jaguar was euthanized at about 5:15 p.m. at the Phoenix Zoo, where he was taken after being flown from the capture site by helicopter. The zoo's veterinarian, Dr. Dean Rice, and Dr. Ole Alcumbrec, a veterinarian whom Game and Fish often hires on contract, concluded from blood tests that the jaguar had extreme kidney failure, Van Pelt said. Van Pelt added that the readings of kidney failure were "off the charts."
Macho B's death was incredibly sad, said a biologist for an environmental group that had opposed the capture of jaguars.
"We can say that the nation has lost one more treasure, and it is a big loss," said Sergio Avila, coordinator of the Sky Island Alliance's Northern Mexico program. "We supported the use of non-invasive techniques. . . . We need more information on what the process was and what went wrong. What did we learn from this? Many people talked about the risks of trapping. We need to know how this happened and what was so much worth learning."
Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said the group would not be "pointing fingers; we want more information," but he called the death terrible news.
"Macho B was one of a kind, having lived in the U.S. 13 years at least," said Robinson, referring to the time when the cat was first photographed. "It's a sad thing to us that he may never have gotten a mate or have kittens in the U.S., because there were no actions taken to recover the species and there is no evidence that he had a mate."
Van Pelt, who has been involved with tracking Macho B for 13 years, said the cat was like a family friend.
"You know, like someone whom at Christmastime you exchange pictures with once a year, and as the years go by, you see how things change with them. For this animal, I'd be getting these pictures to see how it was doing. It is sad, but I also think it demonstrates the importance of maintaining open space and connectivity of habitats, not only for jaguars but for all wildlife species."
Jack Childs, who had photographed Macho B more than 60 times, said this was the only one of four jaguars confirmed to have been in the United States since 1996 that was known to still be living here. One jaguar, known as Macho A, has not been seen since it was last photographed in 2004. Two others, spotted in far Southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico in 1996 and 2006, respectively, have not been seen since those occasions, said Childs, project coordinator for the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project, based in Amado.
"You've got to realize, we've only surveyed about 15 percent of potential jaguar habitat in Arizona," Childs said.
Childs, who had been receiving the satellite data on a computer at his home and sending the information to Game and Fish, said he was saddened at the jaguar's death and felt it was unfortunate that he had been accidentally captured at such an advanced age. But he commended Game and Fish for its efforts to "do right with the animal and make sure he had a good chance of surviving the capture at his old age."
"They've monitored him 24 hours a day since then to make sure that he was doing fine. Since they discovered he wasn't, they did a lot of effort to rectify his condition," Childs said.