Originally Published: February 26, 2009 10:20 p.m.
Just a week after the first capture and collaring of a wild jaguar in the United States, Arizona Game and Fish Department biologists have figured out they already know the male cat and they have been closely watching his movements.
It's a cat they call "Macho B," and Arizona Game and Fish officials have periodically captured his image on cameras near the Mexican border for the past 13 years. They believe he is 15-16 years old, compared to the average lifespan of about nine years. He weighs 118 pounds and has a thick, solid build. Jaguars are the only cat in North America that roars.
The species has been protected as endangered in this country only since 1997, after two independent 1996 sightings confirmed their presence in the Arizona and New Mexico borderlands.
Biologists attached a special collar on the endangered jaguar when they caught him Feb. 18 southwest of Tucson during a research study on mountain lions and black bears.
"Every indication is that Macho B is doing well and has recovered from his capture and collaring," said Terry Johnson, Game and Fish's endangered species coordinator. "With so little known about how jaguars move throughout our state, every little piece of data helps us understand more about the population segment that uses southern Arizona and New Mexico as the northern part of its range."
Game and Fish biologists say jaguars once ranged from southern South America through Central America and Mexico and into the southern United States.
A Jaguar Conservation Team previously set up protocol in case members had a chance to collar a jaguar in the U.S., and they created a special GPS tracking collar. It weighs less than 2 pounds and experts say it does not inhibit the jaguar's normal movements and ability to catch prey.
The collar provides location points for the animal every three hours. It also has a unique feature with a special signal to indicate if the jaguar crosses the U.S. border with Mexico.
Game and Fish's satellite tracking technology will allow biologists to study the jaguar's diet and feeding patterns in the wild, and learn more about the ecological requirements of the species in borderland habitats.
Nearly a week's worth of data has shown that the jaguar moved several miles to a very high and rugged area it has been known to visit in southern Arizona.
The animal had stayed in that general vicinity for a few days with apparent patterns of rest and visits to a nearby creek.
During the collaring, the cat appeared to have just fed on prey, which will help the animal's recovery from capture and let it go for some time without feeding.
Money from Indian gaming and the state lottery (via Arizona's Heritage Fund) is helping to pay for the jaguar conservation effort.
Just last November, Mexico loaned a captive wild jaguar to the Arizona Game and Fish Department so biologists could study the northern jaguar's genetic material for the first time.
It will be on display at the Phoenix Zoo for about a year. Officials say it cannot return to the wild because of its injuries suffered after a rancher captured it in Mexico.