The Center for Biological Diversity filed briefs Wednesday night in federal court demonstrating that the Arizona Game and Fish Department continues to assert that it has a right to trap jaguars and is continuing to trap for mountain lions and bears in areas where jaguars may again occur - the very practice that resulted in last winter's infamous capture and killing of the jaguar known as Macho B.
The briefs are part of a lawsuit seeking to stop Game and Fish from undertaking actions that are likely to injure or kill other jaguars surviving or moving into the United States unless the state agency gets a permit to do so from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"This legal action is necessary, because the Arizona Game and Fish Department continues to claim it has the right to capture jaguars and continues to take action that risks capturing a jaguar," said Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity. "We can't risk another tragedy as grave as the death of Macho B."
Game and Fish caught Macho B in a wire snare set for a cougar and bear study on February 18, 2009, recaptured the jaguar on March 2, and in response to the jaguar's impaired health, likely caused by his initial capture, euthanized him that day.
Although the Department has voluntarily suspended the study in which Macho B was captured, the Center's filing cites Arizona Game and Fish documents claiming that it continues to have authority to capture jaguars despite its lack of a permit and describing its continued efforts to capture cougars near the towns of Tucson, Payson, and Prescott and in the western desert near the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, using methods similar to those that resulted in the capture and death of Macho B.
"The Arizona Game and Fish Department doesn't seem to have learned any lesson from Macho B's death," said Robinson. "Given the big cat's ability to move great distances across the landscape, the state urgently needs to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that its actions don't risk the lives of more jaguars."
The Endangered Species Act clearly prohibits actions that may incidentally "take" (i.e. capture, injure, harass, or kill) endangered species like the jaguar without first obtaining an "incidental take permit." Arizona Game and Fish does not currently possess such a permit, despite the fact that it was conducting a study on bears and mountain lions that resulted in the incidental capture and death of Macho B and continues to do so in other areas where jaguars may occur.
"If Arizona Game and Fish is going to continue to set traps for cougars and bears that may capture a jaguar, it needs to obtain a permit," said Robinson. "The permit is critical because it allows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to specify conditions to minimize the likelihood of another unnecessary death of a jaguar."
Jaguars are the world's third-largest cat, after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in the western hemisphere. Jaguars historically occurred throughout Arizona and continue to occur through Mexico and Central and South America. Hunting and poisoning resulted in the near extirpation of jaguars in the United States, with the last known female jaguar killed in the White Mountains in 1963. In recent years, jaguars have been making a comeback, with male jaguars repeatedly sighted.
"Jaguars need significant protection to make a comeback in this country," said Robinson. "Setting snares for other big animals without planning for the safety of jaguars is part of an old paradigm that doesn't work anymore."