More on the jaguar

Panthera, devoted to conserving wildcats, not thrilled by decision to set aside “critical habitat” for jaguar-

In his NYT op-ed piece yesterday,  “Jaguars Don’t Live Here Anymore,” Alan Rabinowitz, head of Panthera, is not thrilled that USFWS has finally decided to start the ESA process of designating critical habitat for the jaguar in the United States. It is now possible there are no more jaguar here.

Rabinowitz argues that the United States has never been more than marginal jaguar habitat and the money should be spent recovering and protecting the real, and large, but declining jaguar population of Mexico, Central and South America.

It is true that money spent in the U.S. may be pretty marginal to conserving the species, but it’s not like there is one pot of money for the jaguar and designating critical habitat siphons money out of protecting the true jaguar population.

I would say that if USFWS completely ignored any protection for American jaguar, not an extra dime would be generated for south of the border efforts. On the other hand, efforts at  jaguar restoration where Americans live will likely generate interest and support for jaguar conservation in general.






  1. monty Avatar

    Reality tells me that given the explosive human growth in Arizona–that is the closest state to a viable jaguar population in Mexico–has little chance of providing habitat in the future to support this cat. Southeastern New Mexico & southwestern Texas (Big Bend NP complex) have the best potential habitat but, according to a mexican biologist, is seperated by more development in Mexico and he did not believe it is feasible to establish a jaguar corridor to the above areas. Rabinowitz who has spent his adult life trying to save this cat would probably support any effort if he though it was worthwhile. I highly recommend his book “Jaguar” that records his 3 years in Belize wherein he captured & radio collared Jaguars. Belize subsquently set aside 200 thousand acres for watershed protection that is prime Jaguar habitat..

  2. Dave Zaber Avatar
    Dave Zaber

    Is anyone in Fish and Wildlife Service explaining to decision-makers and the public that the political border between the U.S. and Mexico is only political and that it crosses ecological systems? Too bad the climate, topography, geology, soils, plants, animals and people don’t seem to always recognize the ecologically-arbitrary demarcation.

    Restoring jaguar habitat, and the jaguar itself, to the southwestern U.S. is a critical step towards sustainable management of the regional ecosystem. A viable population of jaguar in the U.S. is not only cooler than any stupid video game or SUV, its’ establishment reflects the status of other important ecological processes that we humans depend upon.

    One of the more important roles that top predators such as jaguars, wolves, wolverines, cougar will be control of wild pig populations. Throughout the nation, wild pigs are reproducing and spreading and in the process, destroying large areas of intact native ecosytems. It is essential that we have top predators of the size that can prey upon wild pigs if we are going to minimize the enormous damage this invasive species is causing.

  3. Jim Naureckas Avatar

    It seems like the exact same arguments Alan Rabinowitz makes against thinking of the United States as potential jaguar habitat could have been made–and I expect were made–against the return of the wolf to the northern Rockies. If the animal hasn’t returned on its own, it must not belong here–right? I’m glad that argument wasn’t allowed to prevent the reintroduction of the wolf; is there any better reason we should listen to Rabinowitz?

  4. mikepost Avatar

    Monty, any info on the value/use of this radio collar data on these cats for the species? hate to drag you into the collar debate but it strikes me that this may be a useful example.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Jim Naureckas,

    The same kind of arguments Rabinowitz is making about the jaguar now were made about wolf restoration then.

    At that time, some conservation groups in B.C. and Alberta opposed the capture of wolves in their provinces to transport to the United States because they believed it would take the spotlight off the provinces’ hostile wolf management practices.

  6. cc Avatar

    Unfortunately, jaguars are not in the same situation as gray wolves prior to their reintroduction. There was a healthy wolf population in Canada that allowed them to recolonize naturally and breed in northern MT prior to the ID/WY reintroductions. They would have recolonized ID/WY on their own had the reintroducitons not occurred, albeit at a much slower pace and with much more protection. There is no breeding population of jaguars close to the AZ border and only lone individuals have been documented navigating all the threats to get here. That’s why Rabinowitz would rather see time and effort be spent on species of higher need in the U.S. and areas more suitable for the jaguar.

    The ugly truth is that people’s fascination with predators and other charismatic megafauna eats up attention and money at the expense of other imperiled species. I would rather see the thick-billed parrot reintroduced to the SW than the jaguar.

  7. SAP Avatar

    ” . . . jaguars don’t occupy any territory in our country — and that probably means the environment here is no longer ideal for them. ”

    Rabinowitz makes it sound like jaguars are in a similar predicament as pikas — some clearly intolerable “environmental” threshold has been breached, so jaguars can’t live here anymore.

    Reality is probably a lot more complicated than that. Rabinowitz should go back and read a couple of key articles:

    Michael L. Morrison. 2002. “A proposed research emphasis to overcome the limits of wildlife-habitat relationship studies.” Journal of Wildlife Management 65(4):613-623

    Morrison argues that we use the term “habitat” indiscriminately, and that it obscures what we’re really talking about: specific resources that an organism needs, and critical limiting factors on that organism’s ability to get what it needs and its very survival.

    In the case of jaguars, Rabinowitz may have some set of resources and constraints in mind when he refers to the “environment” and how it can’t support jaguars anymore. But he doesn’t elaborate, just using shorthand terms instead of saying what’s really going on.

    The other key article:

    Caughley, G. 1994. Directions in conservation biology. Journal of Animal Ecology 63:215-244.

    The late Graeme Caughley wrote this excellent article then promptly died. He explained that many times, what we think of as an animal’s “habitat” is really just its sole refuge from some “agent of decline.”

    An apt example of this is the loss of bison, elk, and grizzlies from the Great Plains: it’s not necessarily that some climatic, floristic, or geochemical change made the Plains unsuitable for these mammals; it’s that an “agent of decline” — us! — could get to them there.

    So, for jaguars in the southwest, maybe we need to be looking at what could be done to mitigate against “agents of decline” instead of just saying “nope, the ‘environment’ is all wrong.”

    Rabinowitz is correct that jaguars in AZ & NM are a peninsular extension of larger source populations in Mexico and beyond (similar to wolverines from the north). And, he’s correct that it’s probably the status of those populations that determine whether any jaguars ever cross into the US. But those aren’t sufficient reasons to do nothing on the US side.

    It’s unfortunate that someone like Rabinowitz is so opposed to even an inquiry into this conservation challenge (which, really is all that recovery planning & CH designation will amount to), instead characterizing the FWS move as a “slap in the face to good science.” Whatever could he mean by that? To me, I read his “slap in the face” as “they aren’t deferring to my authority!”

    He could also use a little timeout to read some philosophy of science books, and maybe get over this notion that his PhD entitles him to unchallenged authority on values questions — such as, is it a good and worthwhile use of resources to try to conserve jaguars north of Mexico? Rabinowitz’s expertise is certainly vital to such a discussion, but he is NOT the sole arbiter of what is good and desirable.

  8. monty Avatar

    SAP: In terms of biodiversity, I can’t think of anything more exciting than to have a viable jaguar population in the US. And I will admit that prior to 1995, I held no hope that wolves would be brought back to Yellowstone. So your remarks remind me to think big & nothing is impossible.

    The largest parcel of unfragmented wildlife habitat left in the SW–w/relatively few humans– includes BIg Bend NP (800,000 acs.), Big Bend state park (350,000 acs) & Black Gap bighorn refuge 100,000 acs.) On the Mexican side there is about 1,000,000 acres that is in a protected status with plans to add more acres. This country has 3 deer species & is full of native wild pigs & mountain lions & a few wild horses. And the country to the north is large ranches who milk a living from the desert. According to the Jaguar map in National Geographic the closest jaguar population is about 200 miles to the west or 200 miles to the southeast. I can’t think of a better place in the US that has the potential for supporting this great cat.

  9. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    We need to get busy and tranplant some jaguars back into potentential U.S. habitat and see if they survive. The argument that Macho B was having a hard time surviving because he wandered over a large area doesn’t hold water. He was very likely trying to locate a female.
    We need to address the fact that the U.S. human population needs to be controlled. With the present rate of immigration, both legal and illegal, some project a population of 1 billion humans in the U.S. by 2100.

  10. mikarooni Avatar

    I was worried about someone making an argument like the one made by Mr. Rabinowitz when I asked, in another posting, “did AZ Game and Fish deliberately trap this animal to remove it, to blur the question of native range, and thereby to weaken any future legal traction toward protection of the species in the US?”

    Nobody can say what motivates anyone else; but, I believe that SAP has a lot of things right. I don’t like Mr. Rabinowitz’s attitude either. There is plenty of evidence that AZ was once within the northern portion of the jaguar’s range and, with climate change driving things northward, it isn’t too much of a stretch to see them there again. Perhaps Macho B wasn’t so much a remnant than a re-colonizer. I also don’t believe that efforts to protect jaguars and jaguar habitat in AZ are really going to significantly prevent their protection any place else. In fact, given the politics, AZ might be a better place to expect conservation than TX, although I wouldn’t discourage conservation efforts in TX (it could happen).

    I can’t tell whether Rabinowitz is guarding against competition for jaguar funding or worried about diffusion of goals and objectives; but, I also offered, in another posting, a couple of thoughts on the need for caution when it comes to confusing messages from “conservationists.” “First, some groups get formed to, frankly, undercut the message of other groups… to spread more diffuse messages, to get people stopped in confusion… In these cases, these groups are not all elbowing each other to get through the same door, some of them are elbowing to clog the door and keep anybody from getting through it. Second, successful groups are always high priority targets for infiltration. New voices are always showing up to preach collaboration and compromise. This is often very subtle; good infiltrators often have good coaches behind the scenes and are not always obvious; but, the result, the desired result on the part of the infiltrators, is some level of paralysis.”

  11. SAP Avatar

    Mikarooni – I don’t know Alan Rabinowitz, but I think he’s probably worried about funding somewhat. But I also detect from his NYT piece that he resents these upstarts and their “tiresome litigation,” mostly because they’re going against him and “good science.”

    Again, I think that he is using his scientific credentials to demand a privileged role in what is a subjective, value-driven debate: do we want to conserve jaguars north of Mexico? Based on what I’ve seen of a lot of PhDs — especially those who work on big carnivores — I also suspect that he is utterly unaware that he is making this demand.

  12. JW Avatar

    I agree with SAP’s comments. cc says that wolves were healthy in Canada before the Yellowstone reintroduction. That is true as wolves were roughly 500 miles away. There is evidence of breeding jaguars around 100 miles from the SW and by all indications jaguars lived throughout the SW all the way up to the Grand Canyon. That is far more than an isolated pop. in the extreme SW – they were here.
    I agree with Ralph. Rabinowitz’s thinking is much like the oft mentioned Bush plan to not list a US species if it is abundant elsewhere (like wolverines in Canada).
    I say bring back some jaguars and esp. a breeding pop. that eventually connects with the Mexican population.

  13. Wilderness Muse Avatar
    Wilderness Muse

    Does anyone have a link to a map of the jaguar’s historic range in the US, possibly with a landownership overlay? Are there enough potential “donor” areas with sufficient jaguar density outside the US to provide surplus transplant jaguars for repopulation here?


    Larry Thorngren,

    ++We need to address the fact that the U.S. human population needs to be controlled. With the present rate of immigration, both legal and illegal, some project a population of 1 billion humans in the U.S. by 2100.

    I agree with you, and it is a huge problem. A few years back, a very popular, former 3 term Colorado Governor Richard Lamm (Democrat, environmental law professor and land use expert), made a very strong and convincing case that illustrated the impact of uncontrolled immigration on population growth and its effect on environmental quality in the US. The Democrats wouldn’t support it as a platform issue. I think he also made a pitch to some of the larger environmental advocacy groups, and they wouldn’t back it either. Sad really, because we have become so “politically correct” that it may well take down the US and turn it into a high density third world country, and political parties will deal with it. Yet another inconvenient truth – environmental degradation through uncontrolled immigration population growth.

  14. Wilderness Muse Avatar
    Wilderness Muse

    Sorry, next to last sentence should read:

    Sad really, because we have become so “politically correct” that it may well take down the US and turn it into a high density third world country, and NO political parties will deal with it. Yet another inconvenient truth – environmental degradation through uncontrolled immigration population growth.

  15. cc Avatar

    There were breeding wolves much closer than 500 miles, in Glacier, only around 200 miles from Yellowstone. There were also lone wolves documented even closer. And Rabinowitz was one of the folks pushing to get the jaguar listed in U.S. the 1990’s.

    There’s too many obstacles in northern Mexico for enough jaguars to re-establish themselves in AZ. So money would have to be spent to create that habitat in Mexico and to reintroduce jaguars to the U.S. The money for the habitat would compete with Rabinowitz’s admirable and effective habitat conservation in the heart of the jaguars range. The money for reintroduction would compete for a limited U.S. budget with efforts to save Mexican wolves, masked bobwhite, Sonoran pronghorn, ocelots, etc.

    With needed efforts to expand the Mexican wolf’s recovery area, it would also inadvisable to be reintroducing 2 predators with similar prey needs into the same area. In the southeastern U.S., the much needed additional reintroduction sites for red wolves are restricted by those for the Florida panther because of their similar habitat/prey.

    I’d rather see money spent on our current ocelot population in Texas which is being hammered by habitat loss and seems to be genetically separated from other ocelots in Mexico. Where’s the concern for them? And for jaguarundis? Or the thick-billed parrot (which is unlike jaguar is still not listed in the U.S.)? It’s not only big predators that need help. The triage approach to saving endangered species is something nobody wants to address. But the reality is that any efforts to save the big cat would hurt efforts to save a host of other no less worthy creatures.

  16. foolonthehill Avatar

    Jaguars are a part of our indigenous wildlife,originally breeding as far north as the Grand Canyon, and with records from southern California to northern New Mexico and west Texas. They deserve as much protection as any other southwestern species. Given the current lawless state in northern Mexico, it seems unlike they will get any protection there, and the “border fence” posses a real threat to any additional Jaguars naturally establishing themselves in the US. Unfortunately, the rural people of the Southwest have proven to be extremely intolerant of native predators, like the Mexican Wolf, and it doesn’t seem likely they would be any different with Jaguars. As far as the overpopulation problem, its a global thing, and the real cause of all other “environmental” problems, although no one is doing a damn thing about it, or likely to. You can’t solve it by fencing us in a pretending it isn’t happening here, and everyone is to blame, not just the immigrants. Our whole economic system is based on out of control, exponential growth.

  17. Tony Povilitis Avatar

    What doesn’t Dr. Rabinowitz understand about why jaguars disappeared from the U.S.? Does he believe they just decided not to live here anymore?

    In historic times, jaguars were decimated by hunting and predator extermination campaigns. They lived in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, with some reports from Louisiana and elsewhere.

    The decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prepare a recovery plan for the jaguar is fully consistent with, and in fact required by, rules for animal preservation under the nation’s Endangered Species Act. That is why conservationists won a favorable federal court decision on this matter. Legally, I doubt the Service had much choice.

    Endangered species that are native to the U.S. but with ranges mostly beyond our borders have U.S. recovery programs, including northern aplomado falcon, Mexican wolf, Pacific hawksbill sea turtle, and many others. By continuing to deny the jaguar a recovery plan, the Service would have set the stage for a future policy shift away from protecting other trans-border species.

    As for habitat in the Southwest, there is no reason by jaguars cannot live here. Arizona’s Macho B had an exceptionally long life before he was killed, a fact consistent with recent positive assessments of habitat for the region.

    I can understand how someone who has worked on jaguars in the tropics where their densities are highest could blow off the importance of their recovery elsewhere. A highlight of my career as a wildlife biologist involves my studies of the endangered huemul, a medium-sized deer of the Andes that once occurred over a broad stretch of that cordillera. Had I began my research on the huemul in lush Patagonia instead of the drier habitat of central Chile, I might have dismissed efforts to restore the species in the drier region, where a small but significant population struggles to survive. Interestingly, Chileans have now made recovery of the huemul in their central Andes a national priority.

    Finally, I see no inherent conflict between efforts to restore the jaguar in the U.S and elsewhere. In fact, the U.S. should undertake a concerted program with Mexico to restore our shared jaguar population, the northernmost in the world. Jaguars are precious to both our countries. U.S. international leadership on jaguar conservation will be most authentic when we resolve to tackle the tough issues we face at home in restoring America’s great spotted cat.

    Tony Povilitis, PhD
    Willcox, Arizona

  18. monty Avatar

    Amen, on the human population “disease”!

  19. SAP Avatar

    CommonSense . . . hmmm, that handle must mean that you are the grown-up voice of reason, come to set us straight. Lucky us!

    I suppose that at some point in the 20th Century, “common sense” would have told us many things were unachievable. Like going to the moon (or do you believe the lunar landings were a hoax?), or reading the news on a computer, or running a truck on soybean oil.

    Statements like this one, Mr. or Ms CommonSense, show that you really don’t know much about conservation: “The idea that habitat in the U.S. is important to jaguar recovery is especially ridiculous.”

    Habitat in the US is important to jaguar recovery in the US. There is nothing “ridiculous” or “cool aid” (sic)*about wanting to have jaguars north of Mexico. Part of the conservation significance of the whole region is the overlap of species from the north and the south — historically, jaguars would have overlapped with grizzlies, elk, and other fauna we think of as “northern.”

    If we just want jaguars in the jungles of Latin America, that’s a different matter, but letting them re-inhabit the Sky Islands is a worthwhile goal. You may not share that goal, but there’s no need for the derisive tone. If you’re content to just have certain numbers of jaguars regardless of where they occur, then why not just relegate them to zoos and zoo-parks?

    *It’s actually “Kool-Aid,” and the reference is typically to the Rev Jim Jones and the mass suicide in Guyana, so technically you should say “Flavor Aid,” because they used the off-brand stuff.

  20. NW Avatar

    Living in the world of Aldo Leopold is a joke? Einstein is supposed to have said that “Common Sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18.”

    Human population is indeed a big threat to conservation efforts. But dealing with complex issues and tradeoffs between conservation and humanitarian goals is part of growing up. That’s what our country is doing.

  21. mikarooni Avatar

    Hmmmmm, could someone please do a quick check to see whether “CommonSense” is posting his/her comments from a web address assigned to Alan Rabinowitz or Panthera?

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