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Video: Wild jaguar 'Sombra' seen again in S. Az mountains, confirmed to be male

Video of a endangered wild jaguar released Thursday shows a big cat that was first photographed by a trail camera late last year. Dubbed "Sombra" by Tucson schoolkids, the jaguar was captured on tape in the Chiricahua Mountains this summer.

Later in the day, after much speculation by scientists, activists and the public, state officials announced that the cat is a male.

"This beautiful cat has now appeared in images taken seven months apart," said Randy Serraglio of the Center for Biological Diversity. "It seems that it's established residence in excellent habitat more than 50 miles north of the border, which is great news for jaguar recovery."

The footage, shot this summer, is the first publicly released video of the third jaguar recently spotted in Southern Arizona. Individual jaguars have unique spot patterns, and biologists have compared the photographic evidence to determine that this is the same cat that was photographed last November by a Bureau of Land Management trail camera in the nearby Dos Cabezas Mountains.

That photograph was released in March, when officials confirmed that the jaguar was the third individual big cat documented in the state since 2012.

The sex of the third jaguar had not been determined based on last year's photographs and the video.

"The really exciting part of all this is that we don't know yet what sex Sombra is," said Serraglio earlier in the day. "The possibility that it may be a female gives us a lot of hope that jaguars might jump-start their recovery in a region they've called home for thousands of years."

But early Thursday evening, Arizona Game and Fish officials said that a newly released photograph of the jaguar, which was taken in April by a trail camera, "confirms it as male."

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Government officials and environmental experts disagree on whether jaguars are establishing a permanent breeding population in the United States, or if the wide-ranging cats are just passing through.

Sombra — Spanish for "shadow" — was named by by students of the Paolo Freire Freedom School.

The jaguar named "El Jefe" by Tucson middle school students was photographed by trail cameras more than 100 times in the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson between 2012 and 2015.

A male jaguar, named "Yo'ko" by students at Hiaki High School on the Pascua Yaqui reservation, has been photographed repeatedly between December 2016 and May 2017 by trail cameras in the Huachuca Mountains, southeast of Tucson. Yo'ko appears to have established a territory on the Fort Huachuca military reservation.

The last known female jaguar in the state was shot in 1963 in Arizona's Mogollon Rim, hundreds of miles north of the border.

The jaguar has been protected in the U.S. under the Endangered Species Act since 1997.

El Jefe was repeatedly documented in the Whetstone and Santa Rita Mountains in 2011-2015. Another male, Yo'ko, was photographed twice in the Huachuca Mountains in December 2016 and January 2017.

That second cat, a male, was confirmed to be a previously unobserved animal in December, after experts examined spot patterns in photos. The other wild jaguar photographed in Southern Arizona, El Jefe, has not been seen in more than a year.

Government wildlife officials said in the spring that the third jaguar spotting did not necessarily mean that the big cats are establishing a permanent population in Arizona.

"Since 2012, an increase in trail camera monitoring of mountainous habitat in southern Arizona has provided increased documentation and a better understanding of jaguar presence and habitat preferences," said Steve Spangle, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Arizona field supervisor. "This supports the phenomenon that jaguars seeking territories outside of competitive breeding areas in Mexico continue to occasion Arizona."

"This is a unique development. Jaguars are a historical component of Arizona's wildlife diversity," said Jim deVos, assistant director for Wildlife Management at the Arizona Game and Fish Department. "However, given the irregularity with which jaguar presence in Arizona is documented, even with the expanded use of trail cameras, this sighting is not an indication that jaguars are establishing a population in Arizona."

In December, deVos cited the lack of known female jaguars as evidence that a breeding population of the animals does not exist in Arizona.

Conservation advocates disagree.

"Jaguars are clearly trying hard to re-establish a population in the United States," said Serraglio of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit environmental group.

They've now traveled here through every large mountain range connecting Arizona and Sonora," he said in the spring.

"We can expect more jaguars to show up and establish territories here in the U.S., unless they're cut off from Mexico by the border wall," said Serraglio. "As long as we protect the places they live and the corridors they need to move across the landscape, they'll keep coming, and they'll thrive here."

Before December's announcement that a second big cat had been photographed, El Jefe had been 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 the endangered northern jaguar moving through Southern Arizona. But El Jefe "has not been documented in the state since September 2015," deVos said late last year.

The first photo of El Jefe was taken through direct observation in the field, which prompted a University of Arizona-led trail camera project.

The joint FWS/DHS project, conducted by UA researchers, placed 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.

Other agencies and private groups have also placed trail cameras that have captured images of jaguars.

The jaguar, which is listed as an endangered species, once ranged from California into Louisiana. However, habitat destruction and hunting decimated the population.

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 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.

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Center for Biological Diversity

A still frame from the jaguar video released Thursday.