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Tucson students dub Arizona's only jaguar: 'El Jefe'
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Tucson students dub Arizona's only jaguar: 'El Jefe'

  • A male jaguar photographed by motion-detection wildlife cameras in the Santa Rita Mountains on June 4, 2015, as part of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Department of Homeland Security-funded jaguar survey conducted by University of Arizona. This is the same jaguar that has been repeatedly photographed in the Santa Rita Mountains.
    USFWSA male jaguar photographed by motion-detection wildlife cameras in the Santa Rita Mountains on June 4, 2015, as part of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Department of Homeland Security-funded jaguar survey conducted by University of Arizona. This is the same jaguar that has been repeatedly photographed in the Santa Rita Mountains.
  • A jaguar crossing the Santa Rita Mountains, photographed in spring 2014.
    USFWSA jaguar crossing the Santa Rita Mountains, photographed in spring 2014.
  • A male jaguar photographed by a remote camera on October 22, 2013. The camera is part of a program funded by DHS and guided by officials from U.S. Fish and Wildlife and researchers from the University of Arizona.
    USFWSA male jaguar photographed by a remote camera on October 22, 2013. The camera is part of a program funded by DHS and guided by officials from U.S. Fish and Wildlife and researchers from the University of Arizona.
  • A jaguar crossing the Santa Rita Mountains, photographed in spring 2014.
    USFWSA jaguar crossing the Santa Rita Mountains, photographed in spring 2014.

The only wild jaguar known to live in the United States prowls the mountains just south of Tucson, and local middle school students have given the big cat a name: "El Jefe."

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

"Other names polled well in nationwide online voting, but El Jefe was the overwhelming choice of students at the school," said Randy Serraglio, a spokesman for the environmental group.

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.

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

A joint FWS/DHS project, conducted by researchers from the University of Arizona, 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.

"El Jefe is truly a pioneer," said Serraglio. "We want these kids to grow up in a world where El Jefe is not alone, not the only jaguar in the United States. If we protect the places where jaguars live, we can make that vision a reality."

"Like most people, the more these kids learned about the awesome power and majesty of the jaguar, the more pride and enthusiasm they showed," he said. "It's just really inspiring to feel that energy and know that they care so much about this beautiful animal."

Students at the school, 4400 W Irvington Rd., cast their votes for the jaguar's name last month, and learned about the third-largest cats in the world, after lions and tigers.

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 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.

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