Tucson, Ariz. • A nonprofit devoted to protecting jaguars believes one that was spotted in Arizona mountains in recent years has since died.
Tucson-based Northern Jaguar Project obtained a photo of a jaguar pelt and provided it to the Arizona Daily Star, the newspaper reported.
"We’re very upset that somebody killed that jaguar. I just can’t believe that. It’s really sad for us,” said Carmina Gutierrez Gonzalez, a biologist with the group.
Several Arizona Game and Fish Department officials, including assistant wildlife management director Jim deVos, believe it is the same animal based on spot patterns.
A male jaguar was captured by an official trail camera in March 2017 roaming the Huachucas, southeast of Tucson and near the U.S.-Mexico border. The same jaguar was also photographed on Dec. 1, 2016, by a camera owned by the University of Arizona, which was conducting a study.
The jaguar is on the endangered species list in U.S. and Mexico. Killing them is illegal under the Endangered Species Act.
Jeff Humphrey, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman based in Phoenix, said the agency “may look into the matter some more” if there is more information that can be corroborated.
Officials with the Northern Jaguar Project, which runs a reserve in Sonora, Mexico, believe the photo was shot in Mexico. But they don’t know when or by whom. They also declined to say where they got the photo, saying disclosing the source could jeopardize their ability to work with ranchers.
Two other male jaguars have been spotted within the past few years in Arizona. Conservationists were hopeful that it was a sign the giant cat’s presence was making a comeback in the U.S.
The first jaguar to be recently seen, dubbed by wildlife conservations as “El Jefe” — Spanish for “the boss” — popped up in the Whetstone Mountains in southeastern Arizona in 2011 when he was about 3 years old. He was seen again in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson around September 2015.
About seven jaguars have been documented in southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico since 1996.
Arizona, New Mexico and other parts of the southwestern U.S. were home to jaguars before habitat loss and predator control programs aimed at protecting livestock eliminated them in the past 150 years.