Should the jaguars that once roamed the mountains of the southwestern United States have to roam American lands again? A team of researchers think so.
Jaguars are the largest feline species in the Americas. The species (Panthera onca) once roamed the central mountain ranges of Arizona and New Mexico, before their populations were wiped out in the 1960s due to hunting. It sometimes happens that certain specimens are seen here and there in the country; most commonly males dispersing north of an established (but threatened) population in Sonora, Mexico.
Apart from these few appearances, however, the rest of the populations are now concentrated in Central and South America. But then again, jaguars are not immune. In these regions, it is estimated that these animals have lost about half of their historic range in recent decades largely due to hunting and / or habitat loss.
A return to American soil?
In light of this situation, biologists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Defenders of Wildlife advocate the reintroduction of these predators in the mountainous regions of the southwest of the United States.
“The native fauna of the southwest evolved with the jaguarsStresses Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “They have a historic and vital place in our canyons and forests. That is why we should plan a smart and humane reintroduction program“.
According to the authors, who publish their work in the journal Conservation science and practice, bringing the jaguar back to American soil will not only right a wrong. This return could also bring economic benefits. Michael Robinson mentions in particular the revenues linked to ecotourism which could also encourage the creation of new jobs in the region.
According to a recent study, a very sparsely populated area extending over about 82,000 square kilometers from central Arizona to central New Mexico provides suitable ecological conditions to accommodate between 90 and 150 jaguars. The lands would be managed by the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.
Naturally, it is always difficult to predict how the restoration of an apex predator might influence the wider ecological landscape. Likewise, not everyone will agree with this idea, starting with the cattle ranchers. Nonetheless, these researchers say such a reintroduction is certainly worth it.