The Center for Biological Diversity (CBC), an anti-hunting environmental group, is petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to bring jaguars back in significant numbers to the Southwest. The organization submitted a formal petition to the feds on December 12, 2022. The 107-page document specifically calls for the big cats to be introduced to the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico, as well as habitat conservation efforts in other parts of New Mexico and Arizona.
“A thoughtfully planned reintroduction is crucial for jaguar recovery,” said CBC senior conservation advocate Michael Robinson in a press release. “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 jaguar is considered the largest species of feline in the Americas. The species once roamed much of what is now the southwest U.S. and even parts of California and Louisiana. But the big cats were functionally extirpated in the U.S. by the mid-20th century because of habitat loss and predator control programs. The species is still present in Northern Mexico, which has led to some lone jaguars ranging north into Arizona in recent years, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But no resident jaguar populations have so far developed in the U.S. that we know of.
This is not the first time a jaguar introduction in the southwest U.S. has been put forward. In spring 2021, Field & Stream reported on a scientific study that found that parts of New Mexico and Arizona could support a population of 90 to 150 jaguars. The backers of that study—much like the CBC—were environmental groups that also pushed for the reintroduction of wolves across the western U.S. in recent years.
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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not indicated that it is seriously considering the CBC’s recent petition, nor that it intends to reintroduce jaguars to the U.S. The species is currently listed under the Endangered Species Act. It is illegal to kill a jaguar under federal law.