The mysterious jaguar, which ranges across Central and South America, has only been recorded in the southwestern U.S. a handful of times. The last known cat on this side of the border died last spring after being trapped. But jaguars once ranged from Louisiana to California, and could again, say conservationists -- if only their most vital habitat were protected.
Now, after 13 years of refusing to consider critical habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reversed course, saying it will create a recovery plan for the endangered big cat and map out the areas crucial for its survival. The New York Times reports:
Protecting the jaguar’s habitat will be a complicated challenge. The cats can range over hundreds of square miles to hunt prey, and ranchers have fiercely opposed protection.
Conservationists were exultant on Tuesday, with some predicting that the protection of such a far-ranging species could have a broader impact.
“It will reorient land conservation in the Southwest,” said Michael J. Robinson, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson-based group that brought the lawsuit.
Fish and Wildlife's efforts, though, may be undermined by those of another government agency. Homeland Security has been busy fencing off the border in an attempt to stem terrorism. But those fences also make it hard for jaguar populations to move between their traditional ranges in each country. See our story "Cat Fight on the Border".