Conservationists have released video of a jaguar (and a few other wild animals) they hope will turn out to be the first female of the species seen in Arizona since the 1960s. Russ McSpadden/Center for Biological Diversity

Conservationists have released video of a jaguar they hope will turn out to be the first female of the species seen in Arizona since the 1960s.

The jaguar, named Sombra by Tucson schoolchildren after the Spanish word for shadow, sits facing an automated trail camera in southeastern Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains, peering off into the dark for a few moments before moving on.

Footage from the camera also shows a bear and later a cub, two deer, a mountain lion and a coati.

The Center for Biological Diversity said the camera captured the jaguar earlier this summer and that its spot pattern appears to identify it as the same cat that officials detected by a trail cam seven months earlier in the Dos Cabezas Mountains, northwest of the Chiricahuas.

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If so, it is one of two jaguars detected in southern Arizona last winter and has stayed on in the state. The other roamed the Huachuca Mountains near Sierra Vista.

Those two, and another that had frequented the Santa Ritas north of Patagonia for three years earlier this decade, brought the total confirmed U.S. jaguar sightings since 1996 to seven — five in Arizona and two in New Mexico. Officials have identified six as males and said they may be likelier than females to disperse far from a core jaguar population in Sonora, Mexico.


“El Jefe” was caught on camera outside of Tucson. He and all American jaguars are endangered. Video credit: Conservation CATalyst and the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The possibility that it might be a female gives us a lot of hope that jaguars might jump-start their recovery in a region they’ve called home for thousands of years,” said Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The U.S. government helped Arizona and New Mexico settlers extirpate jaguars from the states last century, but has since protected them as endangered species in the event they re-establish in the Southwest. State wildlife officials banned hunting but argue that Arizona is not crucial to a species that now lives almost exclusively from Mexico to South America.

The prospect of a continuous border wall, as proposed by President Donald Trump, threatens to cut off the forested mountain migration corridors that biologists say jaguars are using to reach Arizona. Proponents say those are the same mountains that smugglers use to deliver drugs into the country, and that the tradeoff is necessary.

Environmental coverage on and in The Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow the azcentral and Arizona Republic environmental reporting team at OurGrandAZ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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