Talk of the Town: CBD seeks to help magnificent cats

The death of the last known wild jaguar in the United States, Macho B, is a loss to science and a loss to our sense of hope for the remaining wildlands of the Southwest.

It also was the loss of a rare, beautiful life full of hidden power and mystery, and, not least, one more symbol of the unraveling of ecosystems and the disruption of the natural balance.

All, including the Daily Courier, agree that the stress of capture likely hastened the death of Macho B. Administration of a tranquilizer drug is thought to have further stressed his kidneys.

But though it is also clear that nobody at the state agency intended this tragedy, questions about the soundness of the agency's management persist.

The Center for Biological Diversity unequivocally supports research to better understand the habits of jaguars in the United States. But it is imperative that such research be conducted with the least possible risk.

We need to know whether Arizona Game and Fish could have taken additional precautions given Macho B's age, and more broadly, whether it's possible to capture jaguars safely in snares given their very small numbers in our country.

Highlighting this is the fact that two jaguars have died in recent years after capture in Mexico.

Research also should contribute to conservation. Under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must designate critical habitat for endangered species and to appoint a recovery team to develop a recovery plan.

The Bush administration steadfastly refused to do both.

Had a recovery team been appointed, it would have had the big picture in view, possibly preventing this tragedy.

Now we need a recovery team to find answers to questions concerning Macho's death, and to direct further research to avoid the same outcome while contributing to on-the-ground conservation.

Likewise, the lack of critical habitat is allowing continued degradation of jaguar habitat, including through construction of a jaguar-proof border wall near Macho's home range.

On March 23, the Center for Biological Diversity will contest the Bush administration's decisions not to develop a recovery plan and not to designate critical habitat for jaguars, in federal district court in Tucson.

Jaguars once ranged from the San Francisco Bay area to the Appalachian Mountains, including in Yavapai County, Arizona, where jaguars are known to have been killed in 1904, 1912, 1926, and 1939 - including one roped and killed with rocks and the last taken in a leghold trap.

In honor of Macho and all the jaguars who once roamed the United States, to ensure the integrity of our southwestern ecosystems, and for our own sense of respect for the spirit of the wild, it is time now

to protect jaguars and their habitats, develop a plan to recover them, and tear down the wall that will make jaguar sightings in the future all that much more rare.

Michael Robinson is a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, and is author of "Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West" (University Press of Colorado, 2005).