SAN DIEGO — The jaguar's range in the 1800s stretched from the Amazon rainforest to the southern United States.
But by the mid-20th century jaguars had been hunted out of the U.S. and were no longer seen north of the Mexican border.
However, a jaguar was sighted in Arizona as recently as January 6, 2021.
Ganesh Marin is a Biologist working on his PhD from the University of Arizona. He focuses on animal movement along the Arizona and Mexico border in the Cajon Bonita watershed.
"The Jaguars we saw in the Borderlands, Valerio, and Bonito were also males. The good news about them is they are young. You can find an astonishing amount of diversity. I'm talking Puma's, Black Bears, Beavers, and then there's Jaguars and this is incredible."
The first Jaguar showed up in March 2021 in Cuenca Los Ojos, a protected area located in Sonora, Mexico. The area is a Sky Island in the Sierra Madre that allows the Jaguar to traverse the mountain range and avoid the heat of the desert.
"When you have young like the ones we reported, it means the moment is not far. Males disperse first, females are slower, and female Jaguars could soon be in the United States.
Besides hunting, loss of habitat was a huge part of why Jaguars were lost in the United States.
"Jaguars are considered a near threatened species because there has been a loss of 20% to 40% of their range," said John Koprowski who is a professor at the University of Wyoming and is Marin's PhD advisor.
Koprowski adds that the Sky Islands in the Sierra Madre Mountains are what makes it possible for the Jaguars to move north.
"But this wonderful tapestry, this mosaic of diverse habitats that are connected to make the movement between Island, jump across an inhospitable desert environment to get to a more lush mountain environment," said Koprowski.
And with this pair of male Jaguars, Benito and Valerio making it so far North they're sending a message.
"They're essentially telling us there's some connectivity available and there's suitable habitat," said Koprowski.
Marin says keeping these corridors open and persevering areas like Cuenca Los Ojos, will support the Jaguars' return to the United States.
"We need to have all these mountainous areas and all the big washes and deep canyons in Mexico and the United States still open," said Marin.
With these two males establishing territory a female is likely to follow.
"My previous advisor, Dr. Gerardo Ceballos said that could happen within five years, I'm hopeful for that."
Editor’s Note: This article previously stated that researchers recently spotted a pair of male jaguars crossing into Arizona from Sonora, Mexico. That has been updated with this information: a Jaguar was sighted in Arizona as recently as January 6, 2021.
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