Activists sporting jaguar costumes and picket signs outside the Tucson office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received some welcome news in July. After 18 years and two lawsuits from environmentalists, the agency added the jaguar to the endangered species list.


"The Fish and Wildlife Service has been dragged screaming and kicking through this entire process," says Kieran Suckling of the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity. His group led the court battle to force the agency to act on the jaguar, which was left off the endangered species list in 1979 due to an "oversight" (HCN 4/14/97).


The listing should stop jaguar poaching dead in its tracks by imposing stiff penalties for cat-killers, says Suckling. Federal agencies will also need to protect jaguar habitat, a move that Suckling hopes will lead to a permanent population of the cats along the U.S.-Mexican border.


Arizona Game and Fish officials who spearheaded a plan to protect the jaguar with the help of landowners and local governments were frustrated by the listing. "The best interest of the jaguar would be to get the people on the ground to be part of the effort to conserve the animals," says Game and Fish spokesman Rory Aikens. "Listing means some of those people may get off the bandwagon."


Fish and Wildlife officials say their recovery efforts will be modeled after the state's plan, but agency spokesman Jeff Humphrey says they don't intend to designate critical habitat for fear of alerting poachers to "hot jaguar areas." Suckling insists the agency is required to define critical habitat. "We expect to have to sue them again," he says.


* Greg Hanscom