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The third largest cat in the world (after tigers and lions) is native to our region: the jaguar. These magnificent cats once lived throughout the American Southwest, with historical records on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the mountains of Southern California and as far east as Louisiana. Jaguars virtually disappeared from this part of their range over the past 150 years, primarily due to hunting, habitat loss, and U.S. government-sponsored predator eradication programs intended to benefit the livestock industry.

In 2014 the Center for Biological Diversity, a national, nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places, secured more than 750,000 acres of federally protected critical habitat for U.S. jaguar recovery. Today’s new jaguar footage was captured well outside of that designated area. 

New Footage of Jaguar in the United States

The Center for Biological Diversity released new video today of a wild jaguar in the United States. The footage, captured by a remote-sensor camera in the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona, offers a stunning glimpse of the jaguar recently named “Sombra” by students at Paulo Freire Freedom School – University Campus in Tucson. The rosette spot patterns on the cat suggest this is the same individual photographed by the Bureau of Land Management in the Dos Cabezas Mountains in November 2016. According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department the jaguar in the photo is a male.The footage contains audio.This footage is available for media use by request by emailing CenterVideos@BiologicalDiversity.org Additional footage from the same remote camera also shows bears, a mountain lion, deer and a coati sharing the same habitat with Sombra. Since 2015, three wild jaguars have been spotted in Arizona: El Jefe, Yo'oko and Sombra.Since 1996 wild jaguars have appeared in nine different mountain ranges in Arizona and two mountain ranges in New Mexico.In March 2014 — as a result of legal action by the Center for Biological Diversity — jaguars received 764,207 acres of critical habitat in Arizona and New Mexico.Jaguars have always roamed the U.S. Southwest but were nearly driven to extinction in the 20th century. One of the greatest single threats to jaguar recovery in the United States is the proposed expansion of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, which would destroy the big cats' ancient migration paths.Footage by Russ McSpadden / Center for Biological Diversity

Posted by Center for Biological Diversity on Thursday, September 14, 2017

Meet Sombra, named by the students of the Paulo Freire Freedom School in Tucson. This majestic cat was captured on remote sensor cameras in the Chiricahua Mountains of southern Arizona. The footage shows what appears to be the same jaguar photographed in the nearby Dos Cabezas Mountains in November 2016.

“This beautiful cat has now appeared in images taken seven months apart,” said Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate with the Center. “It seems that it’s established residence in excellent habitat more than 50 miles north of the border, which is great news for jaguar recovery.”

“Our kids benefit from an educational philosophy that connects them to their world in a concrete and hands-on way,” said Tadeo Pfister, a science teacher at Paulo Freire. “They love studying these big cats, and it’s thrilling to know that they’re helping to shape a future that includes jaguars.”

This is Yo’oko was named by Hiaki High School students at the Yaqui Pascua reservation.

Students naming jaguars became a tradition when the Center approached students at Valencia Middle School (their mascot is a jaguar) to name the cat that became known as El Jefe. 

I asked Russ McSpadden, a media specialist with the Center, about this new trend of naming the cats. “The thought, which proved true, was that people get a more tangible sense of a being when they have a personal name for it. No one was talking about El Jefe (even though hundreds of photos of him were published online) for the 4 years he spent in the Santa Ritas until we got him a name, moved from photo to video, and released the video. The idea sort of came from Jane Goodall, who against the wishes of the more stodgy scientific community, gave her chimps names — she understands human psychology and knew people needed to be invested in wild critters if there was any hope in saving them.”

The footage, shot this summer, is the first publicly released video of this jaguar. Individual jaguars’ spot patterns are unique, and biologists have compared the photographic evidence to determine that this is the same cat that was photographed last year by a camera maintained by the Bureau of Land Management.

In response to the Center’s video release, Arizona Game and Fish Department officials confirmed that Sombra is a male, based on previously unreleased photographic evidence.

Jaguars continue to move into Arizona from a small, vulnerable population in northern Mexico. Seven jaguars have been confirmed by photographs in the United States in the past 20 years, including most recently:

  • The jaguar named “El Jefe” by Valencia Middle School was photographed by trail cameras more than 100 times in the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson between 2012 and 2015. Video footage of El Jefe released in February 2016 went viral and was seen by millions of people around the globe.
  • A male jaguar, named “Yo’ko” by students at Hiaki High School on the Pascua Yaqui reservation, has been photographed repeatedly between December 2016 and May 2017 by trail cameras in the Huachuca Mountains in southern Arizona. Yo’ko appears to have established a territory on the Fort Huachuca military reservation.
  • “Sombra,” which is Spanish for “shadow,” is the third U.S. jaguar detected in the past three years, originally photographed in November 2016 in the Dos Cabezas Mountains just north of the Chiricahuas.

“Part of ensuring the survival and recovery of the northern jaguar population is stopping Trump’s horrendous border wall,” said Serraglio. “These cats must be able to move back and forth across the border as they travel long distances to find mates and establish new territories.”

Jaguars are threatened by the same things our borderlands community as a whole is threatened by: nationalism, ignorance, violence, and a lack of respect for the diversity of life in our greater community. The best way to protect these beautiful creatures is to protect the land, help keep the wild corridors intact, and educating the public about the existence of the king of the Sky Islands. 


Jared "Kitty Katt" McKinley

Publisher, botanist, explorer, and proud desert dweller.