The poignant story and fate of the oldest known wild jaguar, Macho B, has captured not just the attention but the imagination of people in Arizona, across the nation and perhaps even around the world - and rightly so.
The Arizona Republic ran an eloquent and perceptive editorial on March 9 about this "male of mystery" that thrilled us all with his occasional forays into Arizona over the past 13 years, when he was occasionally photographed or videotaped, mostly via efforts to study wildlife moving along these valuable corridors near the border.
The editorial was absolutely on target. For wildlife biologists, veterinarians and other wildlife professionals involved, it was a painful responsibility to euthanize this magnificent animal, which was struggling with kidney failure. It was some of our worst fears coming true, but we had a duty to act.
We don't know if Macho B was the last wild jaguar in Arizona. But as the editorial pointed out, he is a symbol of hope for our open spaces and the connectivity of our habitats. But Macho B is a symbol for an even broader forward-looking discussion: What kind of wildlife future are we going to have in Arizona this century and into the next?
Most people are shocked to learn that a top-of-the-line predator like Macho B, a species long thought extirpated in the United States, could still roam in a state with approximately 6.5 million people. Will we still be home to such amazing wildlife when humans in this state reach 10 million?
The answer may well reside in the decisions Arizonans make today about how we choose to conserve and manage our landscapes.
Difficult decisions call for solid information. The kind of information our biologists were attempting to gather when Macho B was first snared. We need not only to collect biological information for the future but also to join together to create a shared vision for the future and then work cooperatively to ensure that vision comes true.
Yes, Macho B is a symbol for a far-ranging effort in behalf of Arizona's wildlife in behalf of current and future generations.
Macho B was originally captured by biologists trying to gather biological data so that resources managers can make better-informed decisions on land and habitat use.
How well we use that information may well determine if Macho B is to remain a symbol of what was or become a symbol of what still can be in terms of Arizona's wildlife future.
Larry Voyles is director of the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org