New wild jaguar spotted in Southern Arizona, enviros confirm

A remote trail camera in Southern Arizona operated by a wildlife enthusiast recorded a previously unknown jaguar in late December, the Center for Biological Diversity confirmed Friday.

The Tucson-based group said the footage shows a jaguar “not previously identified in the state,” making the charismatic big cat the eighth jaguar documented in Arizona over the last 30 years—decades after the species was all but eliminated from the southwestern United

“Every new jaguar in Arizona is a moment to celebrate,” said Russ
McSpadden, a southwest conservation advocate with the conservation nonprofit. “After being nearly wiped out these majestic
felines continue to reestablish previously occupied territory despite
border wall construction, new mines and other threats to their habitat.
We’re extremely lucky to live near such magnificent creatures, and we’ve
got to do everything we can to protect our shared landscape.”

In a YouTube video published Thursday, Jason Miller said he managed to record the jaguar in a deep canyon just north of the U.S.-Mexico border. In the video, Miller said over the last five years,
he’s placed trail cameras in Southern Arizona. While he has managed to
record ocelots and other animals, he still sought to catch a jaguar on video. 

In mid-December, Miller set up a camera and when he returned, he found a video of the jaguar recorded on Dec. 20.

In the nearly five-minute-long video, Miller recorded mountain lions,
black bears, a ringtail, and javelina over a few days. After moving his camera to a
new spot frequented by mountain lions, he also recorded his first jaguar.

“Unbelievable, here it is,” Miller said in a voice-over. Later, he adds “what a
magnificent creature.”

Crickets sing in the winter air, and the jaguar pants and keeps its broad mouth open for a few seconds.

Miller dubbed the big cat “Cochise.”

The Center for Biological Diversity was able to confirm the jaguar in Miller’s video is new because of the animal’s spots. The rosettes on every jaguar are unique, and analysis of these patterns has
allowed officials to identify and track individual animals through the

Miller’s video shows a new jaguar, and not Sombra or El Jefe, two jaguars “who have roamed Arizona in recent years,” the Center said. “Arizona jaguars are part of the species’
northern population, which includes the breeding population in Sonora,

The center noted that so far all the jaguars observed in Southwest over the last several decades have been male, however it’s unclear from Miller’s video whether the jaguar is male or female.

male or female, this new jaguar is going to need a mate. Now is the
time for us to have a serious conversation and take action to bring
jaguars back,” said Megan Southern, jaguar recovery coordinator with the
Rewilding Institute. “This new cat is just one of the many jaguars who
should be roaming Arizona and New Mexico in a healthy population.”

Unknown cat observed last year

Last October, a jaguar was photographed by remote cameras in the Huachuca Mountains near a section of land state officials attempted to block with an ad-hoc border barrier made of stacked shipping containers. Images of a male jaguar were taken between March and May 2023 by remote cameras operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and added to a database managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Fish and Wildlife officials did not add the photos to the database because the images were “too blurry for spot analysis.”

Those images may have captured a new jaguar, or could have been images of “jaguar 3” — better known as Sombra — a jaguar detected dozens of times in the Chiricahua Mountains about 50 miles northeast of the Huachucas.

In 2016, cameras detected another jaguar in the Huachucas. Named Yo’oko—the Yaqui word for jaguar—by students at Hiaki High School in Tucson, Yo’oko roamed the mountains in 2016 and 2017. Unfortunately, the big cat was photographed dead in Sonora, Mexico, a year later. 

Another jaguar, dubbed El Jefe, was discovered roaming the Whetstone and Santa Rita mountains in 2011 and 2015. Always elusive, El Jefe — the Boss — disappeared in the U.S. However last August, he sauntered past trail cameras managed by the Mexican conservation group PROFAUNA about 120 miles away in Sonora.

PROFAUNA—or Protección de la Fauna Mexicana A.C.—is part of the part of the Borderlands Linkages Initiative. Led by the international conservation nonprofit Wildlands Network, the project involves eight organizations from Mexico and the U.S., who work with landowners to protect habitat for jaguars.

Environmental groups were thrilled by  the new images of El Jefe, but this was “tempered by concerns” the big cat may not return to Arizona because his pathway is blocked by the border wall, and his territory in the state may include a massive open-pit copper mine.

“The seven-year gap between detections illustrates how elusive jaguars can be and how far they roam,” said McSpadden.

The jaguar, which is listed as an endangered species, once ranged from California into Louisiana. However, habitat destruction and hunting decimated the population.

Jaguars have been spotted occasionally in Southern Arizona in recent years, including reports of one in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson. In 2009, state Game and Fish Department employees snared an aged jaguar, dubbed Macho B, which died shortly after in captivity.

Fish and Wildlife Service first identified jaguars as endangered in 1972, but in 1980 they removed jaguars from the endangered species list, the Center said. In 1997, in response to a campaign, jaguars were again protected as endangered.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the agency three times seeking critical habitat protection for jaguars, and in 2009, a federal judge in Arizona rejected the agency’s arguments against the designation, including the fact that few jaguars were believed to be in the United States. 

However, FWS labeled more than 764,000 acres in Southeastern Arizona and Southwestern New Mexico as habitat critical to the survival of the endangered animals in the United States. In 2022, the Center petitioned Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce jaguars in New Mexico, and expand habitat in both states for the noteworthy catamounts.