UPDATE 3/3/2017: Just months after a wild jaguar strolled past a trail cam on the Huachuca Mountain range (you can read about it below), another big cat has been documented roaming the rugged slopes of Arizona. The latest sighting brings the tally of wild jaguars in the US up to three. The newcomer was captured on a trail camera in the Dos Cabezas Mountains, approximately 60 miles north of the US border with Mexico.


After hours of careful scrutiny, wildlife officials are convinced that a second jaguar has been sighted in the US. The cat, who recently wandered past a trail cam on Arizona's Huachuca Mountain range, is thought to be male.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently received a photograph of a jaguar taken by a trail camera in the Huachuca Mountains. Image: Cochise District - BSA

The only other jaguar currently known to roam US soil is "El Jefe" – also an adult male – who is thought to have wandered in from his birthplace in the Sierra Madre of northwest Mexico. El Jefe ("The Boss") has made quite a name for himself since he was first spotted in 2011. His stomping grounds – Arizona's Santa Rita Mountains – are being considered for a controversial open-pit copper mine. (He also enjoys the occasional bear snack.)

The newly sighted jaguar possibly made a similar journey, as Mexico's state of Sonora now hosts a 35,000-acre jaguar reserve where a breeding population of these elusive wild cats survives. 

"We've been expecting another jaguar to pop up in southern Arizona for some time now," Center for Biological Diversity representative Randy Seraglio said in an official statement. "Jaguars will keep returning to southern Arizona to repopulate their ancestral homelands."

The rosette-dappled big cats might look out of place on North American turf today, but the jaguar's range historically extended from Argentina through Brazil, Central America and Mexico, into California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. And we're not talking hundreds of years ago: Arizona's last female jaguar, for example, was shot dead in 1963. 

Jaguar hunting was outlawed in the state decades ago, and in 2014, more than 764,000 acres in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico were designated critical jaguar habitat. That means the two males are relatively safe, but without any known females in the area, there's not much hope for a rebound at the moment. Still, conservationists are hopeful the big cats have a future in North America.

For the team at Mexico's Northern Jaguar Reserve, the sighting is just another example of the resilience of these big cats. "Like many large, solitary predators, jaguars can wander and cover an immense territory with documented home ranges of hundreds of miles," they explain

Fish and Wildlife and the Arizona Game and Fish Department will be carefully analysing the trail-cam photograph over the coming weeks in the hope of determining if the new cat is in fact a never-before-seen individual. At least four jaguars have sauntered into the borderlands in the past 25 years, and it's possible that this is a returning visitor. Interestingly, all of these travellers have been male.

"We've lost a lot of jaguar habitat in the US over the past century, but millions of acres of prime wildlands remain," adds Serraglio. "They belong here, and if we protect the wide-open spaces they need, they will thrive here again. El Jefe has proven that."


Top header image: Andrew Whalley, Flickr