UA to Study Jaguar Presence in the Southwest

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The recent sighting of an adult male jaguar in Cochise County in southeastern Arizona came as a reminder that even though the big spotted cat usually is associated with dense rainforests in central and southern America, it has been known to occasionally wander the dry mountain ranges of the American Southwest.
But virtually nothing is known about where exactly the northern jaguars roam, how many of them live in this area and how they are related to the core populations further south.

To help wildlife managers and stakeholders to get a better picture and aid conservation efforts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or USFWS, has awarded $771,000 distributed over three years to the University of Arizona's Wild Cat Research and Conservation Center, which is based in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The funds were made available to USFWS from the Department of Homeland Security as mitigation for the effects of border-related activity. 

The grant provides funding to assess the presence of northern jaguars and other wildlife and to monitor populations using motion-activated cameras.

"Because there was stiff competition from other entities, this grant is a significant win for the UA and the Wild Cat Research and Conservation Center," said Lisa Haynes, the center's coordinator who manages the jaguar project. 

The study area extends from the Baboquivari Mountains in southeastern Arizona to the Animas Mountains in southwestern New Mexico, between Interstate 10 and the U.S.-Mexico border.

Haynes said the purpose of the study is to establish a non-invasive system for detecting and monitoring jaguars, which will aid management and conservation efforts.

"The project is entirely non-invasive," she said. "No jaguars or any other wildlife will be captured, radio-collared, baited, or harassed in any way."

Motion-activated cameras will passively monitor wildlife activity in the area. In addition, droppings, also called scat, will be collected in the field by team members or with the help of a specially trained scat-detection dog.

Large carnivore scats will be sent for genetic analysis in the lab of Melanie Culver, who is the project's principal investigator and a conservation geneticist with the UA's School of Natural Resources and the Environment and the U.S. Geological Survey. The lab tests will enable the scientists to verify species and possibly identify unique individuals. 

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