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Watch: Jaguar prowls Santa Ritas south of Tucson in new video

Video of a rare solitary jaguar roaming the mountains just south of Tucson was released Wednesday. The big cat, dubbed "El Jefe" in a naming contest, is the only wild jaguar known to live in the United States.

Remote survey cameras, among them a network funded by the Department of Homeland Security, have captured more than 100 images of an endangered northern jaguar moving through Southern Arizona, but the video is the first to be released to the public.

In three short clips, the solitary male is shown striding through the forest of the Santa Rita Mountains, and padding his way across the rocks of a watering hole.

The video, released by the Center for Biological Diversity and Conservation CATalyst, is a compilation of remote-sensor camera footage shot in the fall of 2015, part of a project collecting data on jaguar and ocelot in Southern Arizona mountain ranges.

"Studying these elusive cats anywhere is extremely difficult, but following the only known individual in the U.S. is especially challenging," said Chris Bugbee, a biologist with Conservation CATalyst. "We use our specially trained scat detection dog and spent three years tracking in rugged mountains, collecting data and refining camera sites; these videos represent the peak of our efforts."

Many of the earlier photos show a male jaguar in the Santa Ritas. Dozens of the pictures are hosted on the Flickr page for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under "Jaguar/Ocelot Survey."

"These glimpses into his behavior offer the keys to unlocking the mysteries of these cryptic cats," said Aletris Neils, executive director of Conservation CATalyst. "We are able to determine he is an adult male jaguar, currently in prime condition."

"Every new piece of information is important for conserving northern jaguars and we look forward to building upon on these data so that we can collectively make better decisions on how to manage these fascinating and endangered cats," said Neils.

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A joint Fish and Wildlife/DHS project, conducted by researchers from the University of Arizona, placed some of the cameras placed in pairs across 120 sites from the Baboquivari Mountains in Southern Arizona and east to the Animas Mountains in southwest New Mexico. The Santa Ritas include the area that would be covered by the proposed Rosemont Mine.

Following online voting sponsored by the Center for Biological Diversity, students at Tucson's Valencia Middle School — which has a jaguar for a mascot — announced the name, which means "The Boss" in Spanish, in November.

"Just knowing that this amazing cat is right out there, just 25 miles from downtown Tucson, is a big thrill,” said Randy Serraglio of Center for Biological Diversity. "El Jefe has been living more or less in our backyard for more than three years now. It’s our job to make sure that his home is protected and he can get what he needs to survive.'"

The jaguar, which is listed as an endangered species, once ranged from California into Louisiana, ranging throughout Arizona including along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. However, habitat destruction and hunting decimated the population of the third-largest cats in the world after tigers and lion.

Jaguars have been spotted occasionally in Southern Arizona in recent years, including reports of one in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson. In 2009, state Game and Fish Department employees snared an aged jaguar, dubbed Macho B, which died shortly after in captivity. The last known female jaguar in the United States was shot by a hunter on the Mogollon Rim in 1963.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued Fish and Wildlife three times seeking critical habitat protection for jaguars. In 2009, a federal judge in Arizona rejected the agency’s arguments against the designation, including the fact that few jaguars were believed to be in the United States.

In March 2014, FWS labeled more than 764,000 acres in Southeastern Arizona and Southwestern New Mexico as habitat critical to the survival of the endangered animals in the United States.

"The Rosemont Mine would destroy El Jefe’s home and severely hamstring recovery of jaguars in the United States," said Serraglio. "At ground zero for the mine is the intersection of three major wildlife corridors that are essential for jaguars moving back into the U.S. to reclaim lost territory. The Santa Rita Mountains are critically important to jaguar recovery in this country, and they must be protected."

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Click image to enlarge

A still from a new video showing 'El Jefe,' the only jaguar known to live in the United States, in the mountains south of Tucson.