The Enduring Jaguar

An enduring symbol of indigenous cultures in the Americas, the jaguar continues to hang on despite illegal hunting, habitat pressures and delays in implementing conservation plans. A new study that reveals the existence of more than 100 jaguars in the Mexican state of Jalisco is the latest report to document the ongoing presence of the wild cat.

Contracted by the Jalisco Secretariat of Environment and Sustainable Development (SEMADES, the study indentified jaguars in four mountainous and coastal areas of Jalisco, including Minantlan, Chamela-Cuixmala, Cabo Corrientes and the Sierra de Cuale. Headed by biologist Rodrigo Nunez Perez, who counts 14 years researching the jaguar, the study also noted the presence of pumas, ocelots, jaguarandis and other species.

“The jaguar performs a fundamental role in the our ecosystems,” the SEMADES study stated. “It is considered a landmark species, which means where there is the reproduction of jaguars under good conditions, there is also the same happening with lesser species, above all with smaller felines still of great importance.”

The study documented the presence of 15 mammal species that form part of the food chain necessary for the jaguar’s survival, especially the white-tailed deer. According to Nunez, the jaguar population in the Chamela zone of Jalisco has doubled in a period of ten years.

Further south on the Pacific Coast, in the Mexican state of Guerrero, a local newspaper in 2009 published photos of jaguars taken by researchers in the Sierra Madres. Images of the big predators stirred interest and debate in possible conservation programs.

Jaguars also have been spotted and/or photographed in the southern border regions of Arizona and New Mexico during the past 15 years.

A 2009 jaguar capture by the Arizona Game and Fish Department turned into a scandal when the animal weakened and was put to sleep. Proposals and plans for the recovery of a species once said to be extinct in the United States have been surrounded by controversy and litigation. In early 2010, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced its intention to designate critical habitat for the jaguar.

In Jalisco, meanwhile, SEMADES and federal enviornmental authorities are mulling a state jaguar conservation plan. The state environmental agency announced it will continue monitoring the jaguar populations identified in Nunez’s study, as well as expand research to four other regions of Jalisco where jaguars could be present.

Additional sources: Tribuna de la Bahia (Puerto Vallarta), January 23, 2011. El Sur, June 4, 2010. New York Times, January 24, 2010. Article by Alan Rabinowitz. Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2009. Article by Lindsay Barnett.

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

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