A wild jaguar has been photographed by federally run trail cameras in southern Arizona’s Huachuca Mountains at least twice this year. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service database that tracks jaguar detections lists two photos in March and May 2023.
“These photos show that despite so many obstacles, jaguars continue to reestablish territory in the United States,” said Russ McSpadden, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a wonderful reminder that these big cats move great distances across the landscape. It drives home the importance of protecting connected habitat for these elusive, beautiful felines.”
This is the second jaguar to be detected in the Huachuca Mountains since 2016. The first was a young male named Yo’oko, the Yaqui word for jaguar given to the big cat by students of Hiaki High School in Tucson. Yo’oko roamed the mountains in 2016 and 2017 but was photographed dead in Sonora, Mexico, in 2018.
In the latest database entries, which describe but do not include the photos, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service writes that the trail camera photos are “too blurry for spot analysis.” The pattern of rosettes on every jaguar is unique, enabling identification of specific individuals.
The agency speculates that the photos could show a new jaguar, previously undetected north of the border, or they could show “jaguar 3,” popularly known as Sombra. Sombra has been detected in the Chiricahua Mountains in southern Arizona dozens of times since 2016. The Chiricahuas are roughly 50 miles northeast of the Huachucas.
Another jaguar, El Jefe, roamed the Whetstone and Santa Rita mountains between 2011 and 2015. Following his disappearance in the United States, El Jefe was observed in 2022 on a trail camera approximately 120 miles south in Sonora, Mexico. The seven-year gap between detections illustrates how elusive jaguars can be and how far they roam.
Jaguars are the third-largest cats in the world after tigers and lions. They once lived throughout the American Southwest, with historical records on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the mountains of Southern California and as far east as Louisiana. Jaguars virtually disappeared from this part of their range over the past 150 years, primarily due to habitat loss and historic government predator control programs intended to protect the livestock industry.
Jaguars continue to move into Arizona from Mexico. Seven jaguars have been confirmed by photographs in the United States in the past 20 years.
In December 2022 the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce jaguars in New Mexico and designate much more critical habitat in both New Mexico and Arizona.