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Photo may show a new wild jaguar in S. Arizona

A photo taken last week by a trail camera in the Huachuca Mountains may be of a previously unknown jaguar roaming Southern Arizona. The big cat captured in the picture may be a different individual than "El Jefe," the jaguar photographed in the Santa Ritas south of Tucson and the only known wild jaguar in the country, officials said.

The photograph, dated December 1, was taken taken by a Ft. Huachuca trail camera.

"Preliminary indications are that the cat is a male jaguar and, potentially, an individual not previously seen in Arizona," said Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, regional director for the Southwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We are working with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to determine if this sighting represents a new individual jaguar."

"While this is exciting news, we are examining photographic evidence to determine if we're seeing a new cat here, or if this is an animal that has been seen in Arizona before," said Jim deVos, assistant director of the department's Wildlife Management Division.

Officials are "thoroughly vetting the evidence," deVos said.

"El Jefe" — so named by Tucson schoolchildren in a publicity-raising vote sponsored by the Center for Biological Diversity activist group — has 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 an endangered northern jaguar moving through Southern Arizona.

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.

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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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Arizona Game & Fish

A Dec. 1 photograph may be of a second wild jaguar roaming the mountains of Southern Arizona.