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Draft Recovery Plan Released for the Elusive, Endangered Jaguar


Contact: Catalina Tresky; (202) 772-0253, ctresky@defenders.org


Draft Recovery Plan Released for the Elusive, Endangered Jaguar

TUSCON, Ariz. (Dec. 19, 2016) – Nearly two decades after the native jaguar was granted full protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released the draft recovery plan today for the endangered jaguar.

Rob Peters, senior Southwestern representative for Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:

“The draft recovery plan for the endangered jaguar has been far too long in the making and is too weak for a species that has been racing extinction in the U.S. for decades. While the draft plan rightly stresses protecting the Mexican population, which is essential to establishing breeding jaguars here, the plan does not have a clear strategy for bringing back a breeding population in the United States.

“The draft plan rules out translocating jaguars into the U.S., and the area allotted for recovery is much too small, covering only a fraction of the big cat’s historic range. This one-two punch makes jaguar recovery in the U.S. unlikely.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service must be a champion for jaguars.  It should use the best available science to identify all suitable habitat for jaguar recovery in the U.S. The agency should also seriously consider translocating jaguars here. That will give the big cats of the Southwest a real chance at recovery and beating the clock on extinction.”


In Teddy Roosevelt’s day jaguars roamed across most of Arizona to the rim of the Grand Canyon, into southwestern New Mexico’s Gila wilderness and over the Río Grande into the Big Bend of Texas. Over the past two centuries, jaguars have been eliminated from more than half of their historic range, which spans the U.S. Southwest and Central and South America.

While most of the jaguars remaining today are found in the Amazon and other tropic zones, the jaguar is native to parts of the Southwestern U.S. and has been listed as endangered in the U.S. under the ESA since 1997.

On Nov. 19, 2011 a jaguar known around the world as El Jefe (“The Boss” in Spanish) was found roaming the wilds of southern Arizona. A video of El Jefe surfaced in 2016 and went viral. On Dec. 14, 2016 Arizona Fish and Game Department confirmed that at new male jaguar is roaming in a southern Arizona mountain range.

Jaguar Recovery and Critical Habitat

Citizen lawsuits forced FWS to grant the jaguar full protections under the ESA, to designate critical habitat and to develop the draft recovery plan released today.

Defenders of Wildlife has been involved in jaguar recovery for over 20 years, protecting critical habitat for jaguars from damaging mining projects. In response to Defenders’ 2008 joint lawsuit FWS finalized protection in 2014 for 764,207 acres of habitat for endangered jaguars in southern Arizona and New Mexico.

Modelling done for the habitat subcommittee of the original Interagency Jaguar Conservation Team, which included Defenders, previously identified large amounts of potential habitat in Arizona and New Mexico. Main prey species (e.g., deer and javelina) are much more abundant here than they were 100 years ago. The newly-released recovery plan sets the northern boundary for the jaguar recovery area artificially at Interstate 10, excluding substantial suitable habitat from critical jaguar recovery efforts.

In early 2017, Defenders will be publishing a report with our recommendations for jaguar recovery in the U.S.

Jaguar Migration and Translocation

A few U.S. jaguars have been found in what the FWS designates as the Borderlands Secondary Area, which includes parts of the Southwestern U.S. and northern Sonora. These regions are in the northern part of the jaguar’s Northwestern Recovery Unit, which runs from Arizona south along the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain ranges through the Mexican states of Sinaloa, Sonora and Jalisco.

Sonora and Jalisco contain two “core areas” for jaguars, where the big cats are relatively numerous and secure provided that poaching does not increase significantly. A 2013 preliminary population viability analysis for FWS’ draft recovery plan considers the current jaguar population in the Sonora core area large enough to send dispersers north.

While recent solitary, male jaguar sightings are signs that northward dispersers could establish a breeding population in the U.S., female jaguars may never reach the U.S. on their own. They typically do not disperse long distances like males. In this case, a breeding population in the U.S. may depend on reintroducing females. Translocation could help establish both females and males when dispersal is cut off by major highways or further development of the border wall.



Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.