The big cat, named “El Jefe” (or “boss” in Spanish), was spotted in November by remote-sensor cameras in the western Mexican state of Sonora, which hugs the Gulf of California.
His reappearance was confirmed by conservationists earlier this month after analysis of the jaguar’s markings and cross-checking with earlier photographs.
El Jefe was known to live in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains from 2011 to 2015 where he was captured on camera near Tucson by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). However, he hasn’t been seen since.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to learn that El Jefe is still alive — 12 years old now — and could one day return to the Santa Ritas,” said the Center’s Russ McSpadden, in a statement.
The big cat is known to have crossed the US-Mexico border at least twice, proving that northern jaguars have a vast range.
El Jefe became a bit of celebrity as, for a time, he was believed to be the only wild jaguar in the US.
Historically, jaguars, the sole big cat species in the Americas, ranged from Argentina to the US Southwest. Today only a few remain in the US after they were nearly wiped out by hunting in the 20th century. Populations are now concentrated on Mexico’s Pacific coast, southeastern Mexico, Central America and central South America.
Since 1997, jaguars have been protected under the US Endangered Species Act, with a recovery plan in place for the species.
However CBD notes that jaguars’ 750,00-acre habitat faces threats from mining, urban development and former President Donald Trump’s expansion of the US-Mexico border wall.
A study last year by the Sky Islands Alliance, a conservation non-profit in Arizona, found that migration routes of dozens of species, including jaguars, black bears, mountain lions, and the Mexican wolf, were being blocked by newly-constructed areas of border wall.