In early spring of 1996, Warner Glenn and his daughter Kelly were on a mountain lion hunt in the Peloncillo Mountains when they got on the trail of what appeared to be a large lion. When Warner finally caught up to it, the “lion” turned out to be a jaguar. As luck would have it, Warner had a full roll of film in his camera. The photos he took of the jaguar were the first ever taken of a wild jaguar in the United States. Jaguars have occasionally been seen in Arizona over the years, one as far north as the Grand Canyon in 1932, but all seem to have been wandering individuals, with no clear evidence of a population north of the Mexican border.
Warner’s sighting of the jaguar caused us to take a closer look at the status of jaguars in the area. We invited Alan Rabinowitz, one of the world experts on jaguars, to visit our area and evaluate how suitable habitat in the Borderlands might be for the big cats. He emphasized three main factors of importance for jaguars: access to water, abundant prey and isolation from human populations. He thought that the Borderlands is too dry, and prey abundance too low, to support a jaguar population. He said, “If a jaguar lived here, he would have to pack his lunch.” However, a short reconnaissance to the south, just 130 miles from the border, showed the canyons of the Rio Yaqui, and its tributaries the Rio Aros and Rio Bacadehauchi, to be more suitable, with reliable perennial water and many square miles of rugged barrancas with no roads. Shortly after that, Mexican biologist Carlos Lopez conducted a study of the status of jaguar in the mountains of eastern Sonora through interviews with local ranchers and hunters. He found lots of evidence of a jaguar population in a remote, roadless area of the Sierra Madre; unfortunately much of the evidence was in the form of jaguars killed by Mexican ranchers, totaling nearly two dozen over a three year period. A follow-up study using remote monitoring cameras has documented numerous jaguars in what is probably the largest jaguar population for many hundreds of miles The Malpai Group started a jaguar conservation fund with proceeds from sales of a book of Warner’s photos. This fund is intended to be used to reimburse ranchers for the loss of calves killed by jaguars. The fund also has been used to support jaguar studies such as those conducted by Carlos Lopez. In spite of the population just a little over 100 miles away, there has been no further evidence of jaguars in our area until 10 years later. The drought of the last few years has probably made conditions too harsh here for this tropical animal, but we hope that by keeping the country open and wild we will see them here again when the rains increase, and water and wildlife conditions improve. The Northern Jagaur Project is working 125 miles south of MBG to preserve the core population of Jaguars that affect our area.