Jaguars are the only kind of big cat found in America. They reach as far as Argentina and once roamed to the Grand Canyon in the north in the US Today, the northernmost breeding population is in northwestern Mexico, in the state of Sonora, just south of the Arizona border.
We study biodiversity and protection of species in the US-Mexico border areas and have documented jaguar movements near the border. From our research, we know that there are only two main corridors in the Western Borderlands that jaguars might use to get to the United States
In our view, maintaining these corridors is critical to connecting fragmented habitats for jaguars and other mammals, such as black bears, cougars, ocelots and Mexican wolves. Increasing connectivity – linking small habitats to larger networks – is a key strategy for conserving large animals that span vast areas and maintaining functioning ecological communities.
The northern jaguars
The arid environment of the American Southwest has naturally restricted jaguar distribution in North America. Once these cats were the prime predators in the forested ecosystems of the US Southwest, but predator control programs and hunting decimated their populations in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The last female jaguar in the US was Killed in Arizona in 1949.
1996 outdoor guide and hunter photographed a male jaguar in the Peloncillo Mountains of southeastern Arizona. Other jaguars have since been identified, but no females or cubs have been reported.
In contrast, jaguars are known to occur in the northeast corner of the Mexican state of Sonora. Here the Cajon Bonito streamwhich at times flows into the continental divide from the western slope of the San Luis mountain range supports jaguars and other large animals including black bears, American beavers and ocelots.
For two decades, the lands around the stream have been under a restoration program Cuenca Los Ojos, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring land on both sides of the border. They are now part of a Mexico Volunteer Protected Areas program System of nature reserves.
In the east the Janos Biosphere Reserve includes habitat for jaguars. To the north and south, a combination of conservation-dedicated ranches and natural preserves provide the habitat connectivity jaguars need to move between Mexico and the United States
maneuvering in the border areas
We shot in 2021 a young jaguar we named El Bonito Roaming in the US-Mexico border areas. Each jaguar has a unique pattern of spots on its skin; Once we captured video of both flanks of the cat, we found that we actually saw two jaguars in our study area.
We named the second Jaguar Valerio. Recently it has been seen more frequently as El Bonito in the Cajon Bonito creek area.
As male jaguars mature, they must disperse to find available territory and potential mates. Females tend to occupy territories near their birthplace, a pattern common among mammals. The size of a female jaguar’s territory depends on the abundance of prey and the availability of shelter. Male jaguars travel across multiple female home ranges to increase their mating opportunities so the males’ home ranges can be measured from about 15 square miles to 400 square miles (35 to 1,000 square kilometers).
El Bonito and Valerio were teenagers when we first recorded them. We filmed Valerio for the first time in January 2021 at our study location. Since then, both cats have been using the creek as a corridor. Recent videos show Valerio rubbing a fallen tree across his cheek, suggesting it’s him establish a territory in this border area.
At our study site, we recorded both jaguars just 2 miles (3 kilometers) south of the US-Mexico border. North of this side is Guadalupe Gorgea natural corridor in the Peloncillo Mountains that empties into the United States at the Mexican Arizona-New Mexico border.
2021 the border wall was built over Guadalupe Canyon, stop on the Arizona-New Mexico line. The New Mexico portion of the Peloncillo and San Luis mountain ranges remains open.
Keep corridors open
US and Mexican government agencies and conservation organizations are working together to restore western species threatened with extinction. Growing populations of Mexican wolves, black footed ferrets, California Condors, and bison give hope that a recovery is also possible for jaguars.
The jaguar population in Mexico has been increasing over the past decade, and is now, according to a 2021 study 4,800 estimated. As the number of jaguars in Sonora increases, so does the likelihood that females will reach the border and potentially mate with the male jaguars documented there.
Habitat loss and illegal killings are still the ones Main threats to jaguars in northern Mexico. Creating natural sanctuaries that could support breeding populations and provide avenues for northward expansion would help accelerate natural recolonization of jaguars in the United States. Several institutions and academic research projects have highlighted the need keep natural corridors open Conserve habitat for diverse plant and animal communities.
In addition to jaguars, our camera traps have identified 28 other mammal species including ocelots, cougars and black bears. All of these animals need at least partially connected landscapes if they are to survive long-term.
We believe the opportunity for jaguars to naturally recolonize suitable habitats in the United States is a unique opportunity to encourage animal movement in the frontier areas. The connection of these landscapes will benefit all species in this ecologically unique region, which serves as a source and pathway for wildlife.