Endangered Species Act rules restored; time runs out for last wild U.S. jaguar | KEYE Austin - Green Right Now
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Mar 042009

(Update: A doctor with the Phoenix Zoo told the Arizona Daily Star that the capture and tranquilizing of Macho B likely aggravated the animal’s kidney problem, but noted that officials who inadvertently captured the animal two weeks ago had followed protocol.)

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

This week the Obama Administration shored up the Endangered Species Act, restoring a rule rescinded by the Bush Administration that requires federal agencies to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service when their activities could harm threatened or endangered species.

Obama announced the decision on Tuesday at the Interior Department, noting that “the work of scientists and experts in my administration, including right here in the Interior Department, will be respected.”

It was a statement that many conservationists could embrace as they work to maintain habitats, preserve federal park lands and stabilize animal populations under threat such as the Rocky Mountain gray wolves, the American Pika, polar bears, Atlantic lobsters, salmon and seals, among others.

But the week began with a poignant note about the perils facing wildlife in the United States when an aged jaguar — possibly the very last jaguar living in the wild in the United States — had to be euthanized.

The wild cat, known as Macho B and believed to be 15 to 16 years old had recently been outfitted with a radio collar by Arizona state authorities. When he was later discovered to be suffering from kidney failure, the state game officials had the 118-pound cat euthanized.

It’s not known if the stress of the earlier capture contributed to the jaguar’s death; his demise though is believed to mark the probable extinction of the jaguar in the United States, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Macho B was the only jaguar known to be living in the United States; he had been photographed repeatedly since 1996 in southern Arizona. Three other jaguars, at least one of them thought to have been killed in Mexico, have also been recorded in the United States since 1996, but none are known to be living now,” the center reported in a statement.

“This is a major setback for the jaguar, particularly given that the border wall is making it much harder for jaguars to reoccupy their ancestral homes in the southern United States,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We are deeply saddened.”

Bleak as the situation appears, Robinson believes there is hope for a restored jaguar population because the Center for Biological Diversity has already sued to try to get a federal recovery plan in place. The non-profit is due in federal district court in Tucson on March 23 to discuss its lawsuit against a Bush-era U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refusal to develop a recovery plan and designate “critical habitat” for the jaguar.

Jaguars continue to populate parts of Mexico. They once ranged from the Bay Area of California to the Appalachian Mountains in the United States. Their population was decimated by decades of habitat loss, hunting for pelts and “persecution for fear of livestock losses,” including “systemic killing” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Robinson.

Because there are still wild jaguars in northern Mexico, a recovery plan for the animal in the United States remains feasible, he said.

“The border wall doesn’t extend across the entire border, as yet. The recovery plan could look at many different options, including reintroduction and removal of all or portions of the wall,” he said.

“A recovery team developing the recovery plan would identify their best remaining habitats. Potential areas include the Sky Islands in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico (where this and other jaguars recently known to be in the U.S. lived) and the Gila National Forest and Mogollon Rim in respectively western NM and eastern AZ. But the team could also look further afield, since jaguars once ranged from east to west coast,” he added.

“Macho’s legacy should be action to develop a science-based recovery plan and protection of the areas they call home to ensure their survival.”

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