Saturday, March 24, 2007

Arizona: Jaguar conservation plan subject of May conference

The Arizona Republic

He roars like a lion, ambushes prey and kills them with powerful crushing bites.

His name is Macho B, and he may be the single most photographed wild mammal in Arizona.

One of four or five live jaguars seen in the state this century, Macho B ranges across mountainous terrain 30 miles north and south of the Arizona-Mexico border.

More than 70 photographs and videos of the 12-year-old cat have been recorded since 1996 by volunteers who provide state biologists with much of what is known about Arizona's jaguars. The animal became rare about 1900.

So far, Macho B is the star attraction.

Macho B and his breed will come under review May 2-3 when biologists from Arizona, New Mexico and Sonora, Mexico, meet in Douglas to consider renewing the 1997 regional conservation plan for the cats. The jaguar is listed as endangered inside and outside the United States.

The jaguar conservation team includes landowners, ranchers and citizen groups, in addition to state and federal agencies.

While data exist on jaguars in South America, Central America and other parts of Mexico, information on the estimated 100 Sonoran jaguars is more scarce.

Arizona is at the periphery of the animal's range but can play a role in its recovery by protecting it here, Arizona Game & Fish biologist Bill Van Pelt said.

Macho B made his documentary debut in August 1996 in the Baboquivari Mountains when hunter and naturalist Jack Childs of Tucson videotaped him after his hunting dogs tracked the cat up a tree.

A few months earlier, the first known photo of a live Arizona jaguar had been taken by rancher Warner Glenn, but that cat was later shot dead on a Mexican ranch.

Jaguars gained Endangered Species Act protection after Glenn's and Childs' discoveries. Both men are members of the jaguar conservation team.

Glenn started an effort to reimburse ranchers for livestock killed by jaguars. Childs founded the Borderlands Jaguar Protection Project, which has amassed 15,000 wildlife photographs representing 25 animal species.

"We want to learn everything we can about the biology of jaguars. We're looking at land uses, whether they are compatible with the animal," said Childs, 64, a retired surveyor who is not a biologist but conducts research.

Currently, a string of 50 "trip cameras" located in remote areas detect and photograph animals large enough to trip their sensors. Individual jaguars are identified by their spotting patterns, as unique as thumbprints.

The researchers have learned that a handful of male jaguars roam a 900-square-mile area. They don't appear to attack livestock and have been photographed every month. Females and juveniles have not been observed.

Macho B derived his name one night when he was photographed a few hours after another cat was snapped at the same location. For records purposes, they were dubbed Macho A and B. The other cat didn't return, and it's believed that Macho B may have won a territorial claim.

The latest videos of Macho B were taken Feb. 12, when he seemed to make a historic acknowledgment of the camera in two clips. In one, he walks down a trail and looks directly into the lens.

"In the other, he's actually scent-marking right on the camera, just like you see a tom house cat spraying. He checks his cameras as often as we do," said Emil McCain, who checks them every six to eight weeks. He concluded the marking suggests Macho B is communicating with other jaguars.

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