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Arizona Big Cats

Rare Jaguar Caught And Released In Arizona

Researchers in Arizona have captured an extremely rare jaguar, and placed a tracking collar on the animal in hopes that it will shed light on the habits of one of the United States' most elusive predators.

Wednesday, Arizona Game and Fish Department officials caught the male cat in a rugged area southwest of Tucson, during a study to better understand bear and mountain lion habitat.

Jaguars are found in a vast area, all the way from northern Argentina to the rugged borderland wilderness of Arizona and New Mexico, where they were thought to have vanished until two confirmed sightings in 1996.

There has only been a handful of sightings in the United States since then, and little is known about their habits.

Officials said that the captured jaguar is thought to be at least 15 years old. They fitted the animal with a collar containing a global positioning system, and then released it back into the wild.

"This is a tremendous opportunity to allow us to learn how the animal moves out in the landscape," said Bill Van Pelt, the department's birds and mammals program manager.

The animals were placed under the Endangered Species Act protections in 1997 by the U.S. government. Since then, researchers have used cameras on remote trails to identify a handful of individual animals, all males.

The jaguars are thought to breed in Mexico and roam up over the boarder.

Concern over the well-being of the U.S. population has intensified as a program to build 670 miles of fencing gathers speed along the 2,000 mile southwest border with Mexico.

Van Pelt said, that the GPS collar fitted to the jaguar will allow scientists to track its movements back and forth over the border and study its little known habits.

"The collar will also let us know kill sites, where it's eating, when it's eating and how it gets across major roads in country where there is a lot of human activity going on," he said in a telephone interview.

"It's just truly fascinating from a biological perspective."


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Arizona Game and Fish Department

Published: 2009/02/22 14:35:00 CST