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Conservationists: The death of the jaguar Yo’oko is a call to action

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We were heartbroken to hear the news that one of only two jaguars known to be living in Arizona has died. As reported in the Star June 22, a photo of a jaguar pelt surfaced with markings that match a jaguar that roamed the Huachuca Mountains in 2016 and 2017.

We know that the pelt was “Yo’oko,” as he was named last year by students of Hiaki High School here in Tucson, because the pattern of each jaguar’s markings is unique.

Yo’oko’s death pierces deeply due to his fame and familiarity. But when it comes to the small vulnerable population of northern jaguars that spans the Arizona-Sonora border, every jaguar counts.

Our organizations have been working for decades to protect jaguars and secure safe places for them to live and roam. There are proven steps we can take to make sure that someday jaguars like Yo’oko can live free from persecution and the threat of extinction.

Yo’oko’s death highlights the intense poaching pressure that jaguars face. The Northern Jaguar Project works with ranchers in Sonora, Mexico, to reduce conflicts between jaguars and livestock in the area where the core of the northern jaguar population lives.

That effort includes contracts with ranchers who agree not to harm jaguars or the deer and javelina the big cats prey upon while allowing cameras to be placed on their ranches to detect jaguars and other wild cats. In return, the ranchers receive monetary rewards for photographs of wild cats on their properties.

It’s an elegant exchange that requires patience, education, outreach and cooperation, and it’s proven to protect jaguars. The ranchers near the Northern Jaguar Reserve report that the increase in native food sources for big cats has led to a reduction of attacks on livestock, and none by jaguars. Spreading such programs throughout Sonora will save the lives of jaguars like Yo’oko that do not live near the reserve.

The Center for Biological Diversity has won multiple court victories since the 1990s to protect U.S. jaguars and their habitat. Jaguars once ranged throughout the Southwest until they were wiped out by hunting and government predator control programs. Thanks to the center’s work, it is now illegal to kill a jaguar, and 764,000 acres of habitat have been protected as critical to the survival and recovery of jaguars in the U.S.

Sky Island Alliance mobilizes hundreds of volunteers to work with government agencies and private landowners on both sides of the border to restore habitat and maintain pathways for wildlife that are essential for jaguar movement. Our work to inventory, protect and restore springs and streams enhances water security for wildlife and people, which is especially critical in this arid landscape.

Our organizations continue to fight vigorously against threats to jaguar recovery. These threats include the proposed Rosemont Mine, which would destroy the former home territory of the famous jaguar, El Jefe, in the Santa Rita Mountains in Tucson’s backyard. And they include the border wall, which would block critically important wildlife movement corridors and end any chance for jaguars to disperse north and repopulate the millions of acres of quality habitat that remain available to them in the U.S.

We firmly believe that people can coexist with a thriving jaguar population in the border region. For thousands of years, the indigenous peoples of the Americas have revered jaguars as majestic, powerful spirits of the wild. Whoever killed Yo’oko could learn a lot from them.

Yo’oko the pioneer jaguar may be dead, but the spirit of Yo’oko Nahsuareo — “Jaguar Warrior” in the Yaqui language, the full, proud name given to him by Hiaki High School kids — will live forever. We can honor his spirit by redoubling our efforts to protect jaguars and the connected open spaces they need to survive.

Randy Serraglio is a Tucson-based conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. Louise Misztal is executive director of Sky island Alliance. Diana Hadley is president of the Northern Jaguar Project.


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