The Rarest of Sightings

by Alan Rabinowitz, PhD

Encountering a jaguar in the wild is an experience you never forget. Just ask Warner Glenn. His sighting of a jaguar on the U.S. side of the border back in 1996–the first live jaguar ever photographed here–still thrills him 20 years later. The way Warner tells it–while proudly sharing his extraordinary photos–that story never gets old. But he and his daughter and granddaughter, who graciously hosted us at their Malpai Ranch, are firmly rooted in the present. They are seeing more and more of this wild landscape give way to development and, as people who make their living from it, they are staunch advocates for conservation.

Yesterday, we rode mules into the stifling heat of the Santa Rita Mountains with another legendary jaguar expert: Jack Childs. Jack is only the second person to see a live jaguar in the U.S. and made a career out of studying and capturing their movement on the border.

We rode out to the area where El Jefe, one of the last jaguars to be captured on camera in the U.S., was again recorded in February 2016. We saw puma tracks along the way, but this is clearly inhospitable terrain for jaguars, and we didn’t see any sign of them this time.

While individual jaguars occasionally make it across these rugged mountains and other entry points, most of them were identified as males from their camera trap photos. We have no evidence of females making it far enough north to establish a breeding population on this side of the border. Now, with the looming possibility of an expanded wall or fence making the border impassable to wildlife, the likelihood of jaguars ever re-establishing themselves naturally in the U.S. is becoming increasingly remote.

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