El Jefe the Jaguar Is Also Not a “Bad Hombre”
Another reason to oppose President Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico: It would be devastating for wildlife.
February 15, 2017 Clara Chaisson
Just about a year ago, a YouTube sensation emerged from an unlikely place: the rugged wilderness of Arizona’s Santa Rita mountains. He made just one video, but those 41 seconds of footage—compiled from remote motion-sensor cameras—were enough to solidify his claim to fame as the only known wild jaguar living in the United States. A group of Tucson schoolkids won a nationwide naming contest, christening the big cat El Jefe, Spanish for “The Boss,” a nod to his apex predator status and Mexican heritage.
El Jefe, however, has recently become headline worthy for another reason. On January 25, our newly elected president signed an executive order calling for “the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border.” Now our beloved boss cat represents the threat that barrier would pose to wildlife.
President Trump’s clamorous demand to build a wall along the nearly 2,000 miles we share with Mexico has, of course, sparked a litany of objections—it’s offensive, for one, and it would be costly, ineffective, and infeasible, to name just a few more. Individuals and organizations ranging from the mayor of the border town of Laredo, Texas, to the American Civil Liberties Union to the pope have spoken out against the order. Clearly, the wall’s negative impact on wildlife is only one of many legitimate concerns, but it’s significant nonetheless.
Trump’s wall could affect anything from bighorn sheep to wolves to javelinas, but El Jefe’s story is a powerful case study. A hundred years ago, a jaguar’s stealthy presence in Arizona would have been unremarkable. In the United States, the species’ historic range included a swath from California to Texas—possibly stretching as far east as Louisiana. But by the mid-1900s, federal predator-control programs had pretty much eliminated jaguars from the country. A hunter in 1913 could collect a $5 bounty per jaguar, equivalent to about $123 today. Mexico is still home to some 4,000 individuals, including 50 to 100 in the northern state of Sonora, from where El Jefe likely hails.
Walking for just a few days, a male Sonoran jaguar can easily wander into Arizona. Conservationists haven’t given up hope that the cats might come back and restore their ranks north of the border. “The landscape really is not whole without jaguars,” says Randy Serraglio, a southwest conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. “They belong here.” After several sightings of the spotted cat, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) added it to the Endangered Species List in 1997. Hunters first spotted El Jefe in November 2011.
Female jaguars, however, don’t typically have the same level of wanderlust. El Jefe hasn’t been seen in recent months, and it’s possible that he has returned to Sonora to find a Señora El Jefe (or La Jefa?) to mate with. Because males alone can’t reestablish a breeding population—the future is female, if you will—biologists treat the possibility of a jaguar comeback on U.S. soil with varying degrees of optimism. “If there’s going to be a population recolonized in the States, then we really have to expand the population that’s south of the border,” says Howard Quigley, executive director of the jaguar program at Panthera, a big cat conservation group.
One thing is certain, however: As slim as the chance for jaguars to reestablish themselves here may be, a wall would prevent it entirely. “If somehow Trump is able to realize his fantasy of walling off the U.S.-Mexico border, it would be the end of jaguars in the United States,” Serraglio says. “They would never have a chance to recover here.”
A border wall could also be devastating to the survival of northern Mexico’s fragile jaguar population. Habitat fragmentation, development, and hunting threaten the long-term survival of the species both in Sonora and throughout its range, which extends south to northern Argentina. Throughout the Americas, an estimated 30,000 remaining wild jaguars occupy just 46 percent of their historic range.
In fact, those threats in northern Mexico were part of the reasoning behind the FWS’s decision to designate 764,207 acres of critical jaguar habitat in Arizona and New Mexico. Its 2014 rule reads, “Critical habitat in the United States contributes to the jaguar’s persistence and recovery across the species’ entire range. . .therefore, maintaining connectivity to Mexico is essential to the conservation of the jaguar.”
Trump’s great divider would hurt many other endangered species that straddle the border, too. The recovery plan for the ocelot, which has been under federal protection since 1982, includes connecting the populations in Texas and Mexico. And after rebounding from the brink of extinction, an estimated 160 Sonoran pronghorns remain in the States, with 240 or so more living in Mexico. They need to get together to make more pronghorns, the speediest land animals in North America. Our two countries have also been working together for years to recover the Mexican gray wolf, the most endangered subspecies of wolf in the world.
Many wildlife populations depend on the ability to roam, whether to find a love connection, to migrate, or to mix genes between isolated populations. Serraglio cited one particular herd of bison that crosses the border nearly every day to go between a preferred pasture on one side and a favorite watering hole on the other. “There are all kinds of reasons why animals need to move around on the landscape in order to be biologically healthy,” Serraglio says. “And all that would be disrupted by the border wall.”
Crosses adorn the Mexican side of the wall dividing Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Mexico
Federal projects usually require an extensive environmental impact statement before they can get the green light, but there’s reason to think that the Trump administration might skip that step. Before signing the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which allowed the United States to build 700 miles’ worth of barriers along the Mexican border, then-President George W. Bush enacted the REAL ID Act. Section 102 of that legislation allows the secretary of homeland security to waive all local, state, and federal laws deemed an impediment to construction along U.S. borders. The former secretary, Michael Chertoff, subsequently used it to override the Endangered Species Act and other environmental protections.
As a result of these waivers, the existing walls have impinged on communities that don’t want them and triggered environmental problems experts could have foreseen—if they had been consulted. The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, one of the most biologically diverse areas in the country, is now home to two miles of border fencing in addition to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, and reptiles. According to the Sierra Club, in addition to blocking wildlife, construction there desecrated 69 Native American burial sites and accelerated erosion and sedimentation in the riverbed.
Even winged animals could feel the effects of fragmentation. A 2009 study found that the ferruginous pygmy owl, which got off the FWS Endangered Species List only 11 years ago, rarely flies higher than 4.5 feet off the ground; the average height of the fencing now bisecting its habitat is 13 feet.
“One of the big issues in wildlife conservation is to prevent fragmentation,” Panthera’s Quigley says. “As soon as you start fragmenting populations—whether it’s with a road, or with a huge plantation of oil palm, or whatever it is—then you start seeing the demise of not only that species, but the system and its multiple interactions.”
A month after the election, the Arizona Game and Fish Department and FWS announced that a trail camera in the Huachuca Mountains had snapped a shot of what seems to be a second male jaguar on U.S. soil. With such uncanny timing, it’s almost as if this big cat showed up to remind the president-elect that he’s not the only new boss in town.
At Fort Huachuca trail camera recently captured a photograph of a jaguar
Precious marine habitat and sea life are being threatened by a planned memorial to a warrior king off the coast of Mumbai. Sign this petition to stop the building of this memorial and protect the marine environment and sea life in the Arabian Sea.
October 4, 2016
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, opened the gate and let the first group of wild horses loose into a preserve set up to save one of the last species of wild horses on earth. There are only roughly 2,000 Przewalski horses left, and Russia is committed to keeping the breed alive in the wild. The Przewalski horses once roamed the Eurasian steppes, through Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan, but their habitat was taken over by cattle ranchers. When the horses could no longer roam the steppes, they perished in the wild. The ecology of the steppe suffered too. “In steppe ecosystems these animals contribute to their recovery,” said Olga Pereladova, the head of the World Wildlife Fund’s Central Asian program. “If horses are not grazing in the steppe it deteriorates because vegetation is not trampled; overabundance of grass can cause fires.”
The reserve serves as a breeding facility for Przewalski horses, and allows captive horses the opportunity to acclimate before being turned loose on the expansive steppes.
Scientists are hopeful that sufficient Przewalski remain to secure the future of the breed. China and Mongolia have reintroduced the Przewalski horses back into the wild as well.
Manatees are being killed by boats at a record rate this year. If protections aren’t increased, this animal could soon become extinct. Sign our petition to demand that boating be restricted to stop these unnecessary deaths.
Suitable land for endangered African antelopes is becoming increasingly scarce, according to a recent study. Sign to ensure land fragmentation does not divide these areas into even smaller habitats.
An integral part of conserving jaguars is safeguarding their habitats. In some parts of their range, this includes tropical rain forests. But these forests are rapidly disappearing (Whitworth, Downie, von May, Villacampa, & MacLeod, 2016). But while this is cause for immediate action, it is not cause for despair. A recent study suggests that under the right conditions, even clear-cut tropical rain forests can recover (Whitworth et al., 2016; Greenspan, 2016).
Whitworth et al. (2016) carried out extensive surveys in Peru’s Manu Biosphere Reserve, which I have written about before. They found that regenerating (secondary) forest areas contained 87% of the known species in uncut (primary) patches. This included multiple species of conservation concern; such as the short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis), giant armadillo (
View original post 259 more words
Turtles are at risk of dying out in Iowa due to over-harvesting during their breeding and nesting months. The state’s governor is refusing to sign a new bill that will grant them new protections and regulate commercial and sport trapping. Sign this petition to demand that he acknowledge the threat of over-harvesting and sign the bill.
March 1, 2016
Alaska Voters Oppose Cruel Methods of Killing Wildlife on Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges
Alaskans Oppose Baiting and Trapping on Refuges; Oppose Denning by More than 2-to-1 Margin
A new statewide poll by Remington Research Group shows that Alaska voters strongly support an end to cruel and unsporting practices used to kill bears, wolves and coyotes on the state’s National Wildlife Refuges.
On Jan. 8, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed changes to regulations governing non-subsistence hunting on Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. These changes are designed to uphold the purposes of the refuge system to conserve species and habitats in their natural diversity and to ensure that the biological integrity, diversity and environmental health of the National Wildlife Refuge system benefits Americans now and into the future. Based upon this new poll commissioned by The Humane Society of the United States, the majority of Alaska voters support such changes as they would end cruel methods of killing wildlife on Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges.
The poll asked the following questions:
Q: On National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska, bears are allowed to be hunted over bait, where piles of rotten game meat or fish and junk foods are placed at a certain location to lure bears in for an easy kill at point blank range. Bears that become habituated to human foods can become less shy and more unpredictable. Do you support or oppose the baiting of bears on Alaska National Wildlife Refuges?
Support: 39% Oppose: 50% Unsure: 11%
Q: On National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska, hunters can kill black bears, wolves and coyotes while they are in the den with their cubs and pups. Do you support or oppose this practice on Alaska National Wildlife Refuges?
Support: 30% Oppose: 63% Unsure: 6%
Q: Bears are trapped by steel-jawed, leg-hold traps and wire snares and then killed on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska. Leg-hold traps are powered by strong springs that slam the traps’ jaws shut on an animal’s leg. Wire snares tighten around an animal’s limb or neck. Both bears—and other animals caught accidently—will struggle powerfully to escape these devices, causing painful injuries and suffering in distress. Some die in the traps while other languish without food or water for days until the trapper arrives to kill them. Do you support or oppose allowing the use of steel-jawed, leg-hold traps and wires snare to kill bears on Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges?
Support: 37% Oppose: 58% Unsure: 5%
Q: On National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska it is legal for hunters to use aircraft to scout for bears, land, and then kill those bears the same day, or to shoot bears from aircraft. Do you support or oppose the killing of bears using this practice?
Support: 35% Oppose: 59% Unsure: 6%
“Alaska is home to some of our nation’s most iconic wildlife, and these animals deserve to be treasured and conserved for future generations, instead of subjected to cruel and unsporting trophy hunting and trapping methods,” said Nicole Paquette, vice president of wildlife for The HSUS.
The telephone poll of 1,399 statewide Alaskan voters was conducted by Remington Research Group on behalf of The HSUS from Feb. 24 through Feb. 25, 2016. The margin of error is plus or minus three percent with a 95 percent level of confidence.
Bornean orangutans, numbering only 800 in the wild, are in jeopardy due to plans to build a roadway through their main habitat. Sign this petition to stop this road project that will destroy precious wildlife habitat.
The scheduled mass execution of 900 wild bison at Yellowstone National Park is planning to bar access to the public and the media. Demand the National Park Service make the event available to everyone, so that this tragedy can be documented and publicized.