This past week I attended a talk by Pinau Merlin of the University of Arizona led Jaguar Survey and Monitoring Project. It’s thrilling to discover that a jaguar prowls and roars in the night in the mountainous wilderness of Southern Arizona. It’s depressing to learn that this male cat makes up the entire population of jaguars in our country.
The jaguar is the third largest cat in the world, ranking only behind tigers and lions. They are powerful, massive animals with formidable jaws that can crush the skull of any prey. They are also gorgeous; marvelously proportioned with sleek golden coats marked with black rosettes. No two jaguars wear the same pattern of spots.
The unique markings are the key to the study. Two hundred motion-detecting cameras have been placed in wilderness areas across the southern part of the state. The study also employs a specially trained scat hunting dog that retrieves jaguar scat and brings it to his trainer. The scat is genetically tested for information on the identity, diet and health of the jaguar.
Jaguars require an enormous tract of unfragmented landscape. A young male may travel 500 miles to find a territory. This lone male has come up from the state of Sonora in Mexico, where there is a breeding population. Somehow he navigated around the border fence which is more of a barrier to wildlife than humans.
The huge cat prowls through the night; eating pretty much whatever he comes across. Jaguars prey on 85 different species, preferring deer and javelinas. Pinau said a javelina is like a candy bar to a jaguar.
The reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park has provided proof that apex predators make a habitat more diverse and thus healthier. All of the animals get stronger and faster and the plant life becomes richer when big hunters are at work. It’s a very good thing for the environment to have even one jaguar in the wild.
Does it make the hair stand up on your neck to think you might run into a jaguar some dark night? It’s unlikely as the cats are very secretive and avoid humans. Instead of inspiring fear, a magnificent predator like this deserves our respect. Pinau agrees that the animal is something special. She said she feels the jaguar is the visible soul of the wild.
Read more from Pinau Merlin on the jaguar and ocelots too, on the Arizona Highways Guest Blog.