Background and Recovery
Then and Now
Revered for centuries by native cultures, jaguars once roamed freely from Argentina in South America all the way up to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. At best, only an estimated 15,000 jaguars remain today in the wild in the entire world. Habitat loss and overhunting have these rare cats on the run and listed as threatened or endangered nearly everywhere they call home. The situation is most dire in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, where they’ve been virtually wiped out in the United States, and only 70-100 animals are thought to survive in Sonora, Mexico.
Key Recovery Milestones
In 1997, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) added jaguars to the list of endangered species at the request of wildlife biologists and conservation groups. At the time, however, FWS didn’t think the small, elusive population warranted critical habitat protections or a recovery plan, which are usually required under the Endangered Species Act.
More than half a decade passed, but the cats were not recovering north of the U.S.-Mexico border and jaguar killing in northern Mexico continued at an alarming rate threatening the small remnant population. In 2003, Defenders of Wildlife filed its first of several lawsuits against the FWS, urging officials to reopen the jaguar’s case and reconsider a recovery plan to help increase numbers in the region. Despite the recurring presence of jaguars in Arizona and plenty of available habitat, the George W. Bush administration took the position that jaguars were a foreign species and never agreed to a recovery plan or habitat protections.
In 2010, almost two years after a federal court sided with Defenders and ordered FWS to reexamine the jaguar’s plight, the Obama administration finally agreed to draw up a recovery plan and to consider designating critical habitat. FWS has put together the Jaguar Recovery Team with experts from the U.S. and Mexico to draw up a recovery plan and study the potential for habitat protections. The team is expected to unveil a draft plan in 2012.