Big Cat Expert Applauds Listing Of Jaguar As Endangered In U.S.

July 22, 1997

NEW YORK -- Big-cat expert Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, director for science of the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), applauded last Wednesday's decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the jaguar as an endangered species in the U.S. Rabinowitz, who helped establish the first-ever jaguar reserve in Belize's Cockscomb Basin, also agreed with the Service that protecting "critical habitat" for jaguars was not necessary, since there is no area in the U.S. critical to the jaguar's survival. A critical habitat designation would have greatly restricted land use in the jaguar's range.

At the request of the Malpai Borderlands Group, a consortium of ranchers supported by scientists, individuals and conservation groups, Rabinowitz conducted a study of jaguar habitat in Arizona and New Mexico last month, traveling nearly 1,000 miles throughout the jaguar's suspected range in the U.S.

He found that while jaguar sightings are extremely rare -- just 16 confirmed over the past 150 years in Arizona -- enough evidence existed to justify the need to protect the big predators. "With at least a few reports each decade since the late 1880's, the jaguar cannot simply be considered an accidental wanderer into the U.S.," said Rabinowitz in a recent report to the Malpai Borderlands Group. "Yet, the southwest has, at least in recent times, never been more than marginal habitat at the extreme northern limit of the jaguar's range."

Jaguars are already listed as endangered in parts of Mexico, where Rabinowitz believes a resident population may be dispersing into the U.S. -- particularly males. Jaguars with young have not been spotted in the U.S. since 1910.

The decision to list the jaguar as an endangered species stems from a court ruling which gave the Fish and Wildlife Service until July 17 to place it on the endangered species list.

"Scientifically, there was no justification to protect critical habitat for jaguars. In fact, any steps taken which would adversely affect the lives of people who have been long-time residents of the area, or anger people unnecessarily, might actually work against the survival of the few jaguars that still move through the area," Rabinowitz said. "On the other hand, it is very possible that critical habitat for northern populations for jaguars still exists in parts of Mexico that are not currently acknowledged as part of the jaguar's current range. As such the U.S. should assume some responsibility in identifying and conserving those habitats and populations."

Rabinowitz has also studied tigers, leopards, clouded leopards, leopard cats and civets in their native Asia.

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