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Jaguars Awarded Critical Habitat

The jaguar (Panthera onca) is the third largest big cat globally, next to the lion and tiger, and is the largest feline found in the Western Hemisphere. Up to the beginning of the 20th century, it was common to see these majestic animals roaming throughout most of the Southwestern region of America. However, with greater human populations and advancements in industrialization, jaguar populations suffered because of encroachment on their habitat. This forced most to migrate further south into Mexico and beyond, those that remained stateside were aggressively hunted under a federal predator extermination program between 1918 and 1964. When jaguars were left off the list after the enactment of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, animal welfare groups feared it would suffer extinction. On average 18,000 jaguars were killed for their skins each year, which were slaughter levels that surpassed their reproduction rates. Fortunately, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) stepped in and made jaguar pelt trading illegal while conservation groups took legal actions to have the animal formally protected.

In 1997, the jaguar was added to the Endangered Species list. However, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) did not designate the requisite mountain range habitat throughout Southwestern Arizona and New Mexico for successful wildlife preservation of this animal. As a result, the jaguar continued to suffer critical population loss. When a species is protected under the Endangered Species Act, one of the required preservation measures taken is habitat conservation. For, the species cannot survive without a stable environment that is natural to the animal, defeating the intent of the law. As this protected animal has been spotted roaming throughout southern Arizona, it is incumbent upon the government to provide a habitat free from human intrusion. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) began legal action in 2003 to have the conservation oversight corrected. The justice system did not take notice of the FWS oversight until jaguars fitted with tracking collars presented evidence to the severity of their situation. In 2012, the FWS agreed to review proper critical habitat mandates.

The proposed conservation area would cover 832,232 acres atop six mountain ranges between Arizona and New Mexico that straddle the neighboring country of Mexico. There is much debate about the value of a jaguar habitat. The belief is that most jaguars abandoned living in the United States as a means of survival. Still, this desert feline shows an increased interest in returning to its indigenous roots in the Southwest, as the big cats are spotted with greater frequency. Professionals monitoring jaguar patterns noticed that they leave when they sense danger. Perhaps uncharacteristic in how people perceive these predators, jaguars opt to flee when faced with a fight or flight situation. Yet, historically this has been their response since urbanization and industrialization disrupted their living space. When it comes to human interaction, the animal's perspective seems to be live and let live. It is a wonder that people do not reciprocate the gesture in kind.

The Rosemont Copper Company is less than thrilled at the news of this habitat, as the mining firm had already applied for permits to blast the Arizona's Santa Rita Mountains to develop an open-pit copper mine. Should the habitat layout remain unaltered Rosemont's plans are in jeopardy, as the mining site would fall inside conservation boundaries. Residents of Tucson, Arizona raised concerns about the compromise in air quality with the creation of the copper mine and were pleased when an alternative use for the land was presented.

For those interested, sign the Preserve Jaguar Habitat Petition.

To learn more read: Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall.

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