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Caught on Video: El Jefe, the Only Known Jaguar in the U.S.

The big cat's habitat, however, is threatened by a recent federal decision on a copper mine.

Kim Campbell Thornton  |  Sep 14th 2016


Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.

His presence has been rumored for more than three years, and scientists have kept tabs on him with a scat-sniffing dog and camera traps. Now there is video documentation of the only known jaguar in the United States. His territory? The wooded Santa Rita Mountains, just 25 miles from Tucson, Arizona.

Jaguars have an impressive range. They are found in Amazon jungles, at high elevations, in the pampas and savannas of Brazil, in Central America and Mexico and, barely now, in the United States.

Here’s the video with some explainer text from National Geographic:

Arizona is the only state where jaguars are still known to occur, but they once prowled the Southwest from California to Texas.

Known as El Jefe (“the boss”), the rosetted big cat — jaguars are the third-largest wild cats in the world after lions and tigers — might be facing loss of his habitat from a proposed copper mine by Canadian company Hudbay Minerals. Local residents and ranchers may be on the side of the jaguar, thanks to concerns about water usage and contamination by the mine.

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Photo by Shutterstock

But in August, according to the Defenders of Wildlife blog, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service approved the next phase of the project, called the Rosemont Mine, when it concluded that it would not violate the Endangered Species Act. The mine would encompass one-third of El Jefe’s territory, the blog reported, placing him and other threatened species at risk.

We’ll see whether El Jefe maintains a pawhold in the northernmost region of the jaguar’s range or slips away, leaving the United States a little less wild.

About the author: Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning writer in Southern California. Her subjects include pet care, health and behavior, and wildlife and marine life conservation.