Cat Call

Photograph courtesy of Guillermo Ossa

More than a decade after listing jaguars as endangered, the Fish and Wildlife Service decided to protect the big cat’s historical habitat this month, even though the last one thought to roam in the U.S. died last spring.

“The sleek, ferocious cats have been listed since 1997 as endangered, the highest level of peril for a wild species. Still, the government has never designated critical habitat for the jaguar or come up with a formal recovery plan, steps that are commonly taken under the Endangered Species Act,” the New York Times reported. Now, the Fish and Wildlife Service will do just that.

Many conservationists heralded the reversal as a victory for the jaguars, which once ranged from Louisiana to California, some wildlife biologists believe. Yet some, like Alan Rabinowitz, who has been studying the cats for 30 years and now serves as the president and chief executive of Panthera, a wild cat conservation group, say that the designation is a waste of time, money, and effort on behalf of the government, and energy should instead be spend protecting known populations south of the border.

“The jaguars that now and then cross into the United States most likely come from the northernmost population of jaguars, in Sonora, Mexico. Rather than demand jaguars return to our country, we should help Mexico and other jaguar-range countries conserve the animals’ true habitat,” he wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times this week.

The last known jaguar seen in the U.S., dubbed Macho B, was caught last spring, collared, and later euthanized when Arizona state officials found he have kidney failure. Now the Interior Department’s inspector general is investigating the circumstances around the jaguar’s death.

No matter what the officials conclude about the incident, it’s now clear that conservationists are at odds over not only how to handle jaguars, but how to manage their whole historical range. Panthera is working to protect jaguar populations in other places in the world. The question is whether this change will encourage those thriving populations to cross the border when U.S. organizations finally call, “Here, kitty, kitty.”

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