Extremely rare jaguar spotted near Arizona mountains

Jaguar photographed by motion detector camera (photo: Fish and Wildlife Service)
Jaguar photographed by motion detector camera (photo: Fish and Wildlife Service)

Photos of an extremely rare jaguar roaming Forest Service land near Arizona's Santa Rita Mountains have been published by the Arizona Daily Star, which got the images from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The male jaguar, believed to be the lone known unconfined jaguar in the U.S., has been in the area since at least September 2012, when its image was captured by a hunter's motion-detector camera.

Jeff Humphrey, public outreach specialist with the Fish & Wildlife Service, who spoke with Yahoo News, explained that around the time the hunter captured the photo, the Fish & Wildlife Service and the University of Arizona began using funds supplied by the Department of Homeland Security to monitor the movement of jaguars along the Mexico border. The mission of that project is to learn how border patrols affect jaguars, Humphrey explained.

As part of the project, the university installed motion-activated cameras. For the past seven months, "whenever [researchers] go and download the pictures of things moving in the woods, they've collected photos of the jaguar as well as ocelots."

It's presumed, he noted, "that it's from a wild population of jaguars that occur in northwest Mexico."

Humphrey added that there has been no attempt to capture the jaguar. "We're letting the jaguar do its thing," he said. "We're trying to ascertain what area it is using by using photo detection."

According to a news release from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, "Once fully operational, up to 240 paired cameras will be in place throughout the project area to capture images of ... detected animals."

Federal wildlife officials are considering whether to designate more than 1,300 square miles in New Mexico and Arizona as a critical habitat for the jaguar.