Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 27, 2017

Contact:  Aletris Neils, Executive Director, Conservation CATalyst, (602)717-2406
Chris Bugbee, Senior Scientist, Conservation CATalyst, (305) 498-9112
Enrique Aviles, Hiaki High School, (520) 272-2004
Randy Serraglio, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 784-1504

Pascua Yaqui Students Name New Arizona Jaguar 'Yo'oko'

TUCSON, Ariz.— Students at Hiaki High School on the Pascua Yaqui Reservation today announced “Yo'oko Nahsuareo” as the new name for the wild jaguar recently photographed in the Huachuca Mountains of southern Arizona, 90 miles southeast of the reservation.

The name translates to “Jaguar Warrior.” Yo'oko is the Yaqui word for jaguar, a nod to the big cat's revered place in cross-border indigenous cultures in the Southwest. Students at the school, which provides Yaqui cultural studies and language courses, cast votes for their favorite names over the past few weeks and received instruction on jaguar biology and natural history.

“We take great pride in our native heritage at Hiaki High. We are the Warriors. We're proud to have our language, our word for jaguar, be represented and attached to such an incredible cat,” said Tatiana Martinez, a senior at Hiaki High. “Yo'oko has family in Mexico, just like we do.”

“Like the Yaqui people, jaguars live on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. It's a reminder that undivided communities of people and wildlife existed on this land for thousands of years before current political boundaries were established,” said Aletris Neils, Conservation CATalyst's executive director. “There are several places throughout the region that use indigenous words for jaguar in the place name. These cats have always been part of the Southwest. Their history is written on the land.”

Neils has been mentoring students at Hiaki High School since 2015. “In the process of teaching Hiaki students about jaguars, I've also learned a great deal about the Yaqui connection with wildlife including Yo'oko,” she said. “It's vital that our youth become actively engaged and involved in conservation issues.”

“We won more than 750,000 acres of critical habitat for jaguars in the United States in 2014, and these cats are definitely making a comeback here,” said Randy Serraglio of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Yo'oko is another feline pioneer, like the famous jaguar El Jefe, who lived in the Santa Rita Mountains for several years. We want these kids to grow up in a world where El Jefe and Yo'oko are part of a larger breeding population of jaguars that includes the United States. If we protect the places where jaguars live, we can make that vision a reality.”

Yo'oko is the first jaguar officially verified in the Huachuca Mountains. The young male was photographed on the Fort Huachuca Army Base. He's the third jaguar detected in the state in the past year and a half.

“Throughout the jaguar's geographic range, they are revered as deities and symbols of strength and prowess. Becoming a jaguar warrior was an elite honor,” said Chris Bugbee, Conservation CATalyst's jaguar biologist. “What an appropriate place for the Jaguar Warrior to turn up. It's even possible that Yo'oko traveled into the Huachuca Mountains from Mexico using Yaqui Canyon.”

Jaguars face many threats throughout their range, particularly in Mexico. Originating from a breeding population south of the U.S.-Mexico border, they've begun re-establishing their historic range in the United States in recent decades.

“Yo'oko is a true warrior for making this treacherous journey. He brings us hope that by prioritizing jaguar conservation, we can rectify past mistakes and ensure that jaguars persevere as part of our natural heritage for the sake of future generations,” said Neils.

Jaguars are the third-largest cats in the world after tigers and lions. They once lived throughout the American Southwest, with historical records on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the mountains of Southern California and as far east as Louisiana. Jaguars virtually disappeared from this part of their range over the past 150 years, primarily due to habitat loss and historic government predator control programs intended to protect the livestock industry.

Jaguars continue to move into Arizona from Mexico. El Jefe was photographed by trail cameras more than 100 times in the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson between 2012 and 2015. A third jaguar was photographed in the Dos Cabezas Mountains in November 2016. Seven jaguars have been confirmed by photographs in the United States in the past 20 years.

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe is a group of indigenous peoples that traditionally roamed throughout northern Mexico and the American Southwest. The Pascua Yaqui Reservation gained official recognition by the U.S. federal government in 1978 and is home to approximately 3,300 people. Their sacred Yaqui Deer Dance is a highly respected native ceremony that has remained virtually unchanged for centuries.


Image courtesy Center for Biological Diversity. Images are available for media use.

Conservation CATalyst is a Tucson-based nonprofit organization specializing in conducting scientific research on cats that are in conflict with people, and practicing conservation through research and education.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.2 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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