Environmental groups, animal conservationists and scientists from two universities have published a study calling for the reintroduction of jaguars to the Southwestern US to boost the population of an endangered species.
Jaguars boast a range that extends across some 19 countries, from South and Central America all the way to the US-Mexico border.
However, due to both hunting and habitat loss caused by human activity, jaguar numbers have dwindled and they have lost half of their overall historic territory, according to the animal researchers' new study.
While there have been sporadic sightings of individual male jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico in recent decades, there has been no evidence of breeding pairs found.
“This represents a turning point for this iconic wild cat, identifying a path forward for restoration of the #jaguar to its historic range in the United States,” said Sharon Wilcox Ph.D., our #Texas representative. https://t.co/XW1ShP3lm8 ⬇️— Defenders of Wildlife (@Defenders) May 11, 2021
The conservationists, from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Center for Landscape Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups, have highlighted an area spanning over 31,800 square miles (82,400 square kilometers) which they argue would be ideal for introducing jaguars to the US.
The habitat would be located in the mountains of central Arizona and New Mexico, consisting mainly of federally managed land, with ample water sources, adequate cover and plenty of suitable prey.
According to the researchers’ estimates, it would be feasible to establish a habitat for between 90 and 150 jaguars, which would help restore the region's ecosystem and “an essential part of North America's cultural and natural heritage.”
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“We are attempting to start a new conversation around jaguar recovery, and this would be a project that would be decades in the making,” Sharon Wilcox of Defenders of Wildlife, one of the study's authors, said.
At present, federal officials continue to focus on habitat maintenance and accommodating any jaguars that find their way north of the Mexico border naturally, but there are no immediate plans for reintroduction operations.
However, significant backlash is expected from local rural residents and ranchers alike, especially given the ongoing issues they have with reintroduction of Mexican gray wolves in the area.
A bipartisan deal worth $400 million was recently struck to expand ‘wildlife corridors’ in Florida to help panthers and other endangered species recover, so the study’s proposal is not without precedent.
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