The Arizona Game and Fish Department Monday placed one of its employees on administrative leave with pay resulting from an ongoing internal investigation into this past year's capture of a wild jaguar known as Macho B.
Department administrators put the employee, who has not been named, on leave because of statements the person made during the investigation.
Under state personnel rules, an employee on paid leave can't work until the department takes final administrative action.
Department officials said the employee's statements were related to the employee's actions taken several weeks after the capture, recapture and subsequent euthanization of Macho B, an adult male jaguar that had been known to frequent the Arizona-Mexico border for at least 13 years.
Biologists attached a specialized global positioning satellite tracking collar on the endangered jaguar when they caught him for the first time Feb. 18, 2009, southwest of Tucson during a research study on mountain lions and black bears.
Tracking-collar data transmitted in the days after the release of Macho B indicated that the animal was healthy and traveling more than three miles.
The data later revealed a reduced pattern of movement and foraging. A field team of Game and Fish biologists and a wildlife veterinarian located the animal and assessed its overall condition. They determined that the jaguar required recapture so that expert veterinarians at the Phoenix Zoo could track his condition.
Through blood tests and a physical exam, zoo veterinarians found the cat had been suffering from severe and unrecoverable kidney failure.
Acting on a recommendation from zoo veterinarians, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Game and Fish determined that the jaguar should be euthanized to end his suffering.
Game and Fish officials continue to maintain that they did not direct any department employee to capture a jaguar, and that the department's actions related to the capture were lawful.
Department officials added that they will not complete their internal investigation until Game and Fish reviews findings from a concurrent federal investigation the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting.
The jaguar species has been protected as endangered in this country only since 1997, after two independent 1996 sightings confirmed the cat's presence in the Arizona and New Mexico borderlands.
Game and Fish biologists say jaguars once ranged from southern South America through Central America and Mexico and into the southern United States.
More information about events related to Macho B is available on the Internet at www.azgfd.gov/MachoB.