Jaguars and junk science

jaguar,fish and wildlifeLast August, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed to designate 838,232 acres in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico as critical habitat for the jaguar. FWS sought public comments and got plenty. FWS has slightly changed the boundaries of their proposal and is now seeking more public comments.

A report from the Pima Natural Resource Conservation District (PNRCD) shows that the proposal by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to designate Critical Habitat for the jaguar under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is scientifically indefensible because it is based on flawed data, and it violates laws such as the Data Quality Act.

PNRCD requested that FWS withdraw its proposed rule “because habitat ‘essential’ to the conservation of the jaguar as a species does not exist in either Arizona or New Mexico under any scientifically credible definition of that term, because designation of critical habitat therein cannot possibly help save jaguars, and because the economic consequences of adding yet another layer of regulation and restriction on national security, resource production, water use, hunting and recreation during the worst recession on record since 1929 far outweigh any possibly discernible benefit to jaguars as a species that might be gained by designating critical habitat for them north of the Mexican border where they are but rarely transient…”

See report and supporting material at:
Some highlights:

For Critical Habitat to be established under ESA, the FWS must show that the area in question is essential to the jaguars conservation and survival as a species, not merely whether the area in question could host or has hosted individual, transient jaguars. “Contrary to the claim of the Service in this proposed rule, recent, documented sightings of four or five individual jaguars on singular occasions, two of which occurred over a decade and a half ago, no less, are not scientific evidence of current jaguar residency in or occupancy of the United States for purpose of critical habitat designation. Nor are these sightings scientific evidence that such brief, male-only transience represents use of habitat by jaguars essential to their collective existence or conservation as a species because the jaguar’s breeding range spans two continents, ends in northern Mexico, and the jaguar’s actual epicenter of abundance is located in South America.”

The study shows how FWS is using opinion of so-called jaguar experts rather than hard data. This goes counter to the requirements of ESA which states that design of Critical Habitat much be based on the best scientific data available rather than upon concepts and principles of conservation biology which rely on assumptions.

The study examines reports of jaguar sightings in Arizona and New Mexico and shows why they do not meet the standards of scientific evidence of “essential” habitat. The study documents that several jaguars were transported into the U.S. for the purpose of big game hunts and “seeding” a population for future hunts. Jaguar sightings can be attributed to some of these jaguars rather than natural ranging of jaguars.

The study also alleges that false and mis-representative statements, published in the 2011 Arizona Game & Fish Department Jaguar Conservation Assessment, have been used by FWS to form a basis for Critical Habitat designation.

The study shows FWS “misrepresents the distribution of jaguars within the United States by erroneously claiming that jaguars once occurred as far north as Santa Fe, New Mexico.” PNRCD shows, however, that FWS errs in its attribution because the claim is actually based on a jaguar sighted near Santa Fe, Argentina, and not from New Mexico or the North American continent at all.

The PNRCD study notes that “The premise that resident populations of jaguars existed in Arizona and New Mexico before 1900 is unsupported by the scientific record and the scientific record of jaguars killed in Arizona and New Mexico after 1900 is Fraught with discrepancies, inaccuracies, duplications and unreliability.” The study also notes”that neither Padre Kino nor Juan Mateo Manje make any mention of jaguars in what is today Arizona despite their many entradas into southern Arizona conducted during the late 1600s and early 1700s, and when it is also considered that the Spanish offered no bounties on jaguars, ever, in what is today Arizona and New Mexico, respectively.” If a natural population of jaguars existed in Arizona in the early days, one would think that someone would have taken note.

PNRCD provides thorough review of the historic records of jaguar occurrence for Arizona and New Mexico. As the PNRCD’s review clearly reveals, many of those records heretofore assumed by all researchers to be accurate and reliable are, in fact, both inaccurate and unreliable. Moreover, this review found that ten fatal flaws compromise the scientific integrity of both the characterization of those records by editors, researchers and the Service to date, and, all conclusions and models of alleged suitable jaguar habitat and residency based on the use thereof.

These ten, fatal scientific flaws are: 1) use of inaccurate and unreliable records; 2) reliance on the unfounded assumption that all recorded natural history of jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico began in the year 1900; 3) reliance on and propagation of the false assumption that all sightings of jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico are of “naturally occurring” animals when many were actually of foreign origin and imported and released by humans for hunting purposes; 4) failure to examine primary records and adequately verify cited data and literature for accuracy (an universal error); 5) failure to present the specific dataset used in the model; 6) failure to cite data sources or other sources for specific records; 7) speculation that the location where a jaguar was killed, or in some cases where it was first sighted in the United States, somehow represents its preferred natural habitat; 8) failure to acknowledge the existence of data rejected or omitted, and failure to explain why certain data was rejected or omitted when the reason is neither obvious nor apparent to the reader; 9) failure to identify a specific jaguar in an occurrence record; and, 10) failure to properly verify the data to prevent according duplicative records to the same jaguar.

The last part of the PNRCD study shows how the FWS proposal fails to conform to the law in designating Critical Habitat for the jaguar.


  1. i couldn’t find the informative pamphlet which I received at that Power Point presentation about Jaguars in AZ & northern Mexico. However, at the link below from the free library online, there is information about the Jaguars’ existence in southern AZ, having been reduced considerably by hunters and poisonings. They’re here; they must be reproducing or else there wouldn’t be any sighting either caught on camera or by natural sight.

    The Jaguar in the Southwest: borderland or borderline conservation?

    • I looked through your link and saw things I had read elsewhere, including the fact that it is difficult to characterize jaguar habitat in such a marginal habitat area. Your statement “they must be reproducing” is not been documented after years of research by USFWS, AZGF, Sky Island Alliance, or even world-renown Jag expert Peter Marshall, now deceased and buried in Portal area. Lots of wildlife experts, hunters, and others looking and loads of game cameras, yet no She Jags. They don’t like the territory and without females, you won’t have a viable population here.

      Check the USFWS docket document for good descriptions of what type of habitat jags prefer (see pg. 6-7)

      Let’s face it. Critical habitat for this particular species lies elsewhere – in Mexico and South America. Even USFWS admits this in their documents and actual support of conservation and research efforts in SA/Mexico. We can do the most to support this species by supporting habit conservation in their core areas.

    • Thank you for that reference. I note that the author, Tony Povilitis, was a member of the Jaguar Conservation Team and favors having jaguars in Arizona. He writes, however, there have been only about 15 confirmed sightings in the last 50 years (the paper was written in 2002). He also says, “Most observers believe jaguars that have been recently seen are dispersing individuals or temporary visitors from a population centered some 200 miles south of the Mexico-U.S. Border.” Povilitis also writes, “Land development, vegetation clearing, road construction, depletion of springs and surface waters, and increased human presence can result in diminished security for jaguars, … and loss of suitable acreage sufficient to contain individual home ranges.”

      The low number of sightings and transient nature of the visits indicates that Arizona does not support a breeding population of jaguars.

    • Veronica, Always beware of any published “science” that references second, third and fourth-hand information. This seems to be the norm today in the biological profession. As a result, mistakes are compounded on those of previous writers. Dennis Parker and I mined every literature citation we could find down to original sources. It turns out that Vernon Bailey’s work is chock full of mistakes.

      It also turns out that, although abundantly cited in the “scientific” literature, the paper trail on the stories about historical female jaguars with cubs in Arizona runs dry without any reference to original documentation, any observer’s name or any date. These stories might indeed have been marinated in beer and cooked up around campfires.
      Unless original documentation can be cited, these reports are nothing more than urban legends.

      Unfortunately the current very sad norm for the biological profession is blind acceptance -as the gospel truth -of anything that appears in the published literature. One of the key “scientific” reports cited in the Federal Register is so utterly unprofessional that it reintroduces three female jaguar kills in the late 1950’s that are widely accepted as commercial imports, and counts them in a statistical analysis. The analysis goes on to include serious rounding errors, adds in extra data that precedes the scope of the cited data source without increasing the total number of jaguars in a calculation, and uses a round about probability approach to absolutely butcher a 5th grade level calculation of a simple percentage, all to “prove” that jaguars once populated Arizona and New Mexico. Then the same “study” then introduces new “data” from jaguars that the researchers manipulated with sexual scent baiting.

  2. The last female recorded in Arizona (don’t know if she was here voluntarily or brought in by a hunter) was in 1963 – FIFTY years ago. Nothing has stopped a female from coming to AZ/NM since this time other than their own particular preferences for habitat and tolerance of increasing population and disturbance owing to roads, farms, subdivisions, border fences, illegal immigrant traffic, etc. In the 1960s, the population in Arizona was ~1.1 million and it is 5.4 million now with ever increasing numbers of roads and ongoing road-widening projects. IMHO, the Santa Ritas and Whetstones are really the northern limit of where these animals would go now. Can you seem them crossing I-10 and I-19? The bighorns won’t cross Oracle Road, much less an interstate highway…why would jaguars?

  3. It’s pretty easy for the main stream media to fool brainwashed college students who have no idea what critical thinking is. Look at who we now have as a reelected President. DAH!

  4. I remember when Greenpeace was caught clubbing baby seals, and PETA was euthanizing the animals they claimed to have been saving.

    How easy would it be with the government controlled media, brainwashed college kids acting as “earth first” reporters, to fool a stupid and unsuspecting public?

    Endangered Species Fraud?

    …and more

    ….something smells fishy…it’s coho salmon!

    • As long as we’re all in a suspicious mood today…
      Can anyone tell me what happens to animal poop cleaned out of zoo enclosures? What happens with the jaguar poop collected from the various zoos that display these animals. Seems like it would be easy to make friends with the person who cleans out the enclosures and take possession of scat/urine-soaked bedding that might normally just end up in a dumpster or compost pile.

  5. It is really strange that there have been so many reported sightings of one lone male jaguar in the northern portion of the Santa Rita Range over the last several months. The timing of these sightings appears very suspicious, considering the fact that Rosemont Copper is rapidly approaching a successful conclusion of its permitting process.

    If these sightings are indeed true, could there be a possibility that this jaguar has been transported to this area by some NGO group like the Center for Biological Diversity?

    Or if this lone male jaguar arrived here naturally, could there be any possibility that some group like the Center for Biological Diversity has been spreading female jaguar scat or urine around the area in a effort to keep this poor lonely male jaguar hanging around in the area so they could take numerous photos of this cat as evidence to support their claim for critical habitat?

    Considering the Center for Biological Diversity’s propensity to manufacture data to support their claims and even lie about it in a Court of Law, I would believe that this is exactly what has been happening here.

    Remember the Chilton Ranch Case:


    • Chris ,
      I have the same observations exactly about this issue.

      Why exactly were these steps not taken in the 90s when one of these cats were first seen .

      Here is another great theory to upset the whackos .

      I think this cat and macho b are the same cat appearing in photographs.

    • You are absolutely wrong and should be ashamed! The next thing you’ll be saying will probably be that some creepy group went out and released all those “native born” pygmy owls in their effort to prevent development up around Dove Mountain a few years ago.

    • Horquilla asks: “If these sightings are indeed true, could there be a possibility that this jaguar has been transported to this area by some NGO group like the Center for Biological Diversity?”

      Answer: NO. CBD doesn’t appear to have the competency or experience to conduct such a risky operation (capture, handling, transport of a wild cat) and they that aren’t that stupid so give them a little credit. Remember that about 40% of their staff are attorneys. Can you imagine a lawyer going out to catching a wild dangerous creature? Jurassic Park deja vu. About ~30% of CBD staff looks like they are in marketing, fundraising, admin, website, community activists, or IT. There are precious few in this group who are honest-to-god scientists. Among those are entymologists and range managers who wouldn’t know much about large, dangerous animals.

  6. I do not consider myself a “whacko” in the nature scene, but I have been a wildlife rehabilitor volunteer for eight years and enjoyed the study of wildlife throughout my life. That said, from the reports which I’ve read about Jaguars in the Southwest, it’s obvious that they are here and reproducing. That would qualify southern Arizona as their habitat. They are not strictly jungle big cats anymore than the species of Mountain Lions are strictly mountain dwellers.

    • Veronica,can you supply references to papers showing reproducing jaguars in AZ? I would be interested in seeing them.

      • On short notice, no. However, Jaguars keep showing up in southern Arizona. I don’t think that they’re wandering up here from the interior jungles of Mexico and Central America for no particular reason. Besides hunger, reproduction is one of the strongest motivating forces in the animal kingdom for making long treks. I did attend a meeting about 10 years ago at the Tucson Botanical Gardens in which a Power Point on the AZ-Sonora migrations of Jaguars. The presenter worked with ranchers in northern Mexico to halt the mass hunting of Jaguars. It was very interesting. I’ll dig through my notes and see what I can find for you.

        • Outlier species of birds also occasionally or rarely frequent southern Arizona. They usually end up on a birding hotline list and folks flock to see the transient visitor while the bird is “in town”. It is clear that jaguars (sole animals at any particular time) have visited southern Arizona and Southern Arizona on rare occasions, although a particular individual like Macho B continued to migrate back and forth over a 10-15 year period. This does not make these areas in NM and AZ optimal for long-term occupancy including reproduction. I concur with you that reproduction is one of the strongest motivating factors in the animal kingdom. When the current lone male figures out that the nearest female is ~130 miles to the south, he will turn around and head back. So far in his journeys between the Huachucas, Whetstones, Santa Ritas, etc., he has not found another male jaguar, much less a female. Females have different habitat requirements from what I read on USFWS documents including adequate denning sites and more thicket-like, closed-in vegetation providing more cover for cubs. The need this species has for permanent water sources (creek, seeps/springs) is going to make Arizona’s drying climate even more of a challenge. We have marginal habitat as it is and many of the seeps and springs are drying up independent of any proposed mining operation.

  7. It is going to get worse as the mine draws nearer to a desicion for or against.

    Every whacko in the nature scene will be pulling out all crazy information they can on this subject.

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