For Immediate Release, September 24, 2009
Contact: Michael Robinson, (575) 534-0360
Conservationists Sue to Protect Endangered Jaguars From Arizona Game and Fish Department
TUCSON, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Arizona Game and Fish Department today in federal court in Tucson to prevent the agency from killing any more endangered jaguars.
The lawsuit asserts that, contrary to the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s position, the state agency does not have a permit allowing it to set snares and take other actions that might reasonably be expected to injure or kill jaguars.
Despite the controversy and successive revelations about the Department’s capture and killing of the jaguar “Macho B” in February and March of this year, the agency claims it still has authority to capture jaguars. Today’s suit seeks to ban the state agency from capturing any additional jaguars until and unless it obtains all needed authorizing permits.
“Our suit is necessary to protect any jaguars currently in Arizona and those that we hope will live in the state in the future,” said Michael Robinson of the Center. “Arizona Game and Fish Department’s ongoing and planned actions put such animals at risk.”
The federal Endangered Species Act allows “take” of animals on the endangered species list, such as the jaguar, only in accordance with provisions of permits issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Take” is defined in the act as harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct. Permits may be for either purposeful or accidental take. However, the Department does not hold either kind of permit granting it such authority.
“Snaring and other risky actions undertaken by the Arizona Game and Fish Department broke the law by putting jaguars at risk even if they had never captured and unnecessarily killed Macho B,” Robinson added. “The department is still putting jaguars at risk.”
Today’s lawsuit is independent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s ongoing investigation into any violations that may have led to the death of Macho B.
“We hope that the Fish and Wildlife Service will seek accountability and justice for the loss of the last known jaguar in United States,” said Robinson. “Our suit is about preventing future harm to jaguars in the United States.”
Permits issued by Fish and Wildlife Service typically contain provisions minimizing the risk to an endangered species, and should also be grounded in a recovery plan that delineates information needs and weighs research methods against the species’ actual recovery needs.
A permit for capture of a jaguar might, for example, require use of specially configured box traps, instead of snares which can cut off circulation to a limb. A jaguar recovery team, which Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to appoint, could provide technical expertise to guide provisions in a take permit.
The longstanding lackadaisical approach to jaguar management has already been found in violation of the law. On March 30, 2009, a federal judge ruled in another Center lawsuit that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to prepare a recovery plan and designate critical habitat for the jaguar — positions long advocated by the state agency as well.
“Snaring jaguars without an overarching recovery plan delineating information needs, as well as showing how research methods fit into jaguar recovery, is the wrong way to go about it,” said Robinson. “The ‘let’s-get-our-hands-on-the-animal’ approach to management is a legacy of the era when jaguars were proudly enumerated as body counts. Our government agencies should display far more respect for this majestic cat and its rightful place in our deserts and mountains.”
The jaguar is the largest wild feline in the western hemisphere, and the third-largest cat in the world, after the tiger and the lion. Jaguars are native to South, Central, and North America, and in the United States they once ranged from northern California to North Carolina, as well as further south. Today in the United States, they are only known in the Sky Islands region of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico near the border with Mexico.