Over the last couple of months two new jaguars have been detected in southern Arizona, both in the sky island ecosytems near the border with Mexico. Both were caught on camera traps and from photo analysis, they are distinct individuals from the jaguar named El Jefe, who was the last captured on film a couple of years ago. The first one was photographed in December near Fort Huachuca in the nearby mountains. The pictures indicate it was a male, most likely having crossed over from Mexico and staking out new territory. The second individual was spotted in the Dos Cabezas mountains near Willcox, Arizona. It was unclear from the pictures whether this jaguar was male or female.
Thus far, all the jaguars spotted in Arizona since 1996 have turned out to be solitary males, almost certainly attempting to establish new territory and also hoping to find a female to mate with. As such, while they could be considered resident depending on how long they remained in the state, there is not as yet any evidence that a breeding population exists. However, with so many males having come over the border in recent years some biologists assume that there may be mating pair(s) just to the south in Mexico, whence these males are dispersing from. If the Dos Cabezas jaguar turns out be a female, that would be a major development since it would indicate the possibility of a breeding activity inside the U.S.
Scientists are concerned that the proposed border wall if implemented in these areas, would cut off the corridors that these jaguars and other important and endangered species like ocelots are using to go back and forth between the two countries. Alternatives are being discussed by environmental groups to propose to the federal government to allow for at least some animal movement through the barriers, though it is unclear how this would work. In any event, without corridors it would almost certainly put an end to any jaguar resettlement in the U.S. Southwest. This video explains some of the scientific concerns.
The sky island region in this area is a biodiversity hotspot, perhaps more so than any other region in the U.S. This is because northern Rocky Mountain species like pronghorn antelope that are at the southern limits of their range overlap with tropical species like the jaguar, which are at the northern limit of their range. What helps these two very different bio-regions co-exist is the presence of the sky islands themselves, which are aptly named since they erupt out of the high desert grasslands surrounding them.
As the elevation increases, grasslands becomes oak and juniper forests, which higher up turn to mixed pine and conifer, and then to aspen groves near the top of the mountains. This allows for more tropical species to survive in the lower altitudes, and more temperate species to remain at higher elevation.
From a wildlife tracker's standpoint, this region is superlative in terms of the diversity of animals one can find. While tracks of jaguar and ocelot may be rare, there are many other large mammals present including black bears, white tailed (Coues) deer and mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, mountain lions, bobcats, collared peccaries, raccoons, white-nosed coatis, and several different species of skunks. One could spend a lifetime in the canyons, riparian areas, and valleys of the sky island ecosystems tracking and never get bored. Let's hope the wildlife can continue to freely cross back and forth so that this diversity can be enjoyed by generations to come.