Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 12, 2022


Michael Robinson, (575) 313-7017,

Petition Seeks Jaguar Reintroduction, Habitat Protection in New Mexico, Arizona

One Wild Jaguar Survives in U.S. 50 Years After Being Protected as Endangered

SILVER CITY, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to reintroduce jaguars to the Southwest. The largest cat in the Americas was put on the endangered species list 50 years ago, but because of federal inaction, only a single known wild jaguar now survives in the United States.

“A thoughtfully planned reintroduction is crucial for jaguar recovery,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center. “Restoring the jaguar to a small part of its historic range in the U.S. would enrich our southwestern ecosystems, genetically bolster jaguars in Mexico, and show that we love life on earth, even in its fiercest manifestations.”

The 107-page scientific petition requests reintroduction of jaguars to the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico. It also calls for the designation of critical habitat for their recovery in New Mexico and Arizona. This includes space to facilitate safe cross-border movements between the United States and Mexico.

Returning jaguars to the American Southwest would help save the largely isolated jaguars in northwestern Mexico, which have low genetic diversity. Climate change also adds urgency for the jaguar to be able to expand its range to the north.

Jaguars were placed on the endangered list in 1972. Just one jaguar is known to live in the United States today: Sombra, a male named by middle-school students in Tucson. Since 2016 Sombra has been repeatedly photographed in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona, one of the areas requested for critical habitat designation. He was almost certainly born in Mexico.

Reports and scientific studies described in the petition found the Gila National Forest and the broader Mogollon Plateau, extending northwest to the Grand Canyon, have excellent jaguar habitat. The petition seeks the release of jaguars in the Gila National Forest, which includes the Gila Wilderness and adjoining Aldo Leopold Wilderness. The Gila National Forest harbors abundant deer, elk and javelina that could support a jaguar population.

The last known female jaguar in the United States was shot in 1963 in Arizona, 159 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, in the Apache National Forest that adjoins the Gila National Forest. She had elk remains in her digestive system.

“Over eons through survival of the fittest, these exquisitely camouflaged cats helped make the mule deer’s ears swivel toward the slightest sound,” said Robinson. “Because all life is connected in ways that humans only partly understand, I truly believe that jaguar reintroduction will benefit the long-term sustainability of all living beings in the Southwest.”

Bolstered by rural community support, a reintroduction program in Argentina is returning jaguars to a region from which they had disappeared. Argentina’s initial success suggests one possible model for a future U.S. jaguar reintroduction program. This petition similarly seeks a multi-year planning process that would involve Tribal nations, local communities, scientists and others to promote co-existence.


The jaguar is the Western Hemisphere’s largest felid species and the third-largest cat globally after tigers and lions. Jaguars evolved in North America millions of years ago before expanding their range to Central America and South America. Native peoples in the United States since time immemorial depicted jaguars in artifacts, described them in oral accounts and used jaguar skins ceremonially. Explorers and colonists encountered jaguars from California to the Carolinas. Yet jaguars in the United States were killed one by one without concern for their ecological importance.

Jaguar, Panthera onca. Wikimedia Commons / Cburnett. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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