A major victory has been achieved on behalf of the American jaguar. A new proposal from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has the potential to save the animal by affording the endangered species necessary protection. Under this new agreement from the FWS, 838,232 acres of land (approximately the size of Rhode Island) in southern New Mexico and Arizona will be set aside as protected land to allow the animals to step back and away from the brink of extinction.
The land, which is considered by many to be a “critical habitat” for the large cat species, has been an area of growing concern for conservationists over the years. As the jaguars have been pushed further and further away and into an area that is only a fraction of the size its original territory, it was almost certain that current populations would not be able to keep up and remain sustainable.
“Jaguars once roamed across the United States, from California to Louisiana, but have been virtually extinct here since the 1950s,” explained Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). Over the last 20 years, the CBD has spent a considerable amount of time working to bring back dwindling populations of the cat. With this decision, all the work has been well worth the wait. “Today’s habitat proposal will ensure North America’s largest cat returns to the wild mountains and deserts of the Southwest. Jaguars are a spectacular part of our natural heritage and belong to every American—just as surely as bald eagles, wolves and grizzly bears,” said Suckling.
Like other declining animal species in the U.S., jaguars have been pushed from their original stomping grounds by predator-killing programs implemented the federal government. (The gray wolf has also been affected in much of the same way.) Therefore, anytime an animal was deemed a serious threat permission was given for that animal to be killed. Thus it was that the jaguar slipped further and further off the map, and in 1997 the animal was formally listed as an “endangered species”. Only in the past two decades have the animals been able to reclaim areas of Arizona and New Mexico.
With this new proposal, the American jaguar is expected to increase its numbers to a sustainable level. Within a year, the plans should be finalized and areas of Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties in Arizona, and parts of Hidalgo County in New Mexico will be under federal protection. “You can’t protect endangered species without protecting the places they live. Species with protected critical habitat recover twice as fast as those without it,” explained Suckling. “This wild expanse of habitat is a huge boost to the return of jaguars to the American Southwest.”
Because of the combined determination of conservationists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American jaguar may soon see a growth in population. Such effort should not go unnoticed. To express gratitude to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its decision to dedicate land to the protection of the American jaguar, please sign the petition here.
Photo Credit: fws.gov/international/education-zone/meet-the-species.html