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Officials confirm wild jaguar spotted in Huachucas is new to Arizona

A male jaguar snapped by a trail camera near Ft. Huachuca "has not been seen previously in Arizona," state Game and Fish Department officials have confirmed. Another wild jaguar photographed in Southern Arizona, "El Jefe," has not been seen in more than a year.

Scientists with Game and Fish examined the spot patterns on the jaguar photographed earlier this month, comparing the picture to the hundreds of photos of the other big cat known to prowl the mountains of Southern Arizona.

Officials "concluded that this animal has not been sighted in previously in the state," said Jim deVos, assistant director for Wildlife Management with the department.

"It is exciting to document a new visitor," but the presence of a second jaguar is "not an indicator" that the big cats are establishing a population in Arizona, he said, citing the "absence of female jaguars and with the irregularity with which we document any jaguar presence."

The photo of the new jaguar was taken earlier this month by a trail camera in the Huachuca Mountains. The big cat captured in the picture is a different individual than "El Jefe," the jaguar photographed in the Santa Ritas south of Tucson and previously the only known wild jaguar in the country, officials said.

The new photograph, dated December 1, was taken taken by a Ft. Huachuca trail camera. Officials said last week that they were "thoroughly vetting" whether the photo showed a different jaguar.

"While recognizing the importance of finding a new jaguar in Arizona, it is also important to point out that this animal, like all other jaguars observed in Arizona in at least 50 years, is a solitary male and that the closest breeding population of this species is about 130 miles south of the international border," deVos said in a news release Wednesday.

"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.

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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 El Jefe "has not been documented in the state since September 2015," deVos said.

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.

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.