For Immediate Release, March 17, 2021

Contact:

Stephen Saunter, Wildlife Conservation Society, (908) 247-2585, ssautner@wcs.org
Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity, (575) 313-7017, michaelr@biologicaldiversity.org
Kerry Skiff, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-0253, kskiff@defenders.org

Scientists Identify 20 Million Acre Habitat Area for Jaguars in Arizona, New Mexico

New Study Finds Habitat for More Than 150 Big Cats, Lays Groundwork for Potential Reintroduction

TUCSON, Ariz.— A team of scientists has identified a wide swath of habitat in Arizona and New Mexico — 20 million acres, or about 32,000 square miles — that could eventually support more than 150 jaguars.

In a study published in Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation, the team says that the central mountains of the two states, which they call the Central Arizona/New Mexico Recovery Area or CANRA, offers new opportunities for the United States to contribute to recovery of the species.

Authors of the study include scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Wildlands Network, Pace University, U.S. Geological Survey, Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro, Bird’s Eye View, IUCN and Bordercats Working Group.

The multidisciplinary group of scientists compared 12 habitat models for jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico and found an area of habitat the size of South Carolina, roughly 100 miles from the southern border with Mexico. This area was not considered in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s jaguar recovery plan, released in 2019, but the Service left open the possibility of revising the recovery plan boundaries as new information, such as this study, became available.

“There is a lot more potential jaguar habitat in the United States than was previously realized,” said Eric W. Sanderson, WCS senior conservation ecologist. “These findings open a new opportunity for jaguar conservation in North America that could help address threats from habitat loss, climate change and border infrastructure.”

Jaguars are now considered an endangered species across their range (including the United States), and state-level protections exist in Arizona and New Mexico. Over the past two decades, seven male jaguars have been photographed in the mountains south of Interstate 10.

“It should come as no surprise that the forested Mogollon Plateau, which teems with deer, elk and javelina, now has scientific recognition as good jaguar habitat,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This region was the last stand for breeding jaguars after their elimination elsewhere in the U.S., and these beautiful cats could thrive here again.”

Jaguars are often associated with tropical habitats such as the Amazon and Central America, but historically they were found as far north as the Grand Canyon. The last jaguar north of the I-10 freeway was killed by a U.S. government hunter in 1964.

“This fresh look at jaguar habitat in the U.S. identifies a much larger area that could support many more of these big cats,” said Bryan Bird, director for Southwest programs at Defenders of Wildlife. “This expanded area of the Southwest is 27 times larger than the current designated critical habitat. We hope these findings will inspire renewed cooperation and result in more resident jaguars in the U.S.”

“Jaguar recovery in the northern extreme of its range is of interest to both the U.S. and Mexico, and having this analysis — which clears previous misconceptions about available habitat — is indispensable to make informed decisions for international efforts,” said Juan Carlos Bravo, Wildlands Network’s Mexico and Borderlands program director.

Recent and historical jaguar observations in the United States and northern Mexico can be found at jaguardata.info.

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Jaguar. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Cburnett. Image is available for media use.
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Central Arizona/New Mexico Recovery Area. Map courtesy of Sanderson et al. (2021) published in Conservation Science and Practice. 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.

WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: newsroom.wcs.org Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

Since 1991, Wildlands Network been committed to reconnecting, restoring and rewilding North America so that life — in all its diversity — can thrive. Our work is founded in science, driven by fieldwork and furthered through strategic policy and partnerships. We envision a North America where nature is undivided, and where people coexist in harmony with our native plants and animals. Visit wildlandsnetwork.org to learn more.