Ten Years After the Death of Jaguar, Macho B
By Sergio Avila, Sierra Club
Around 2004 I was a field volunteer in a jaguar project using wildlife cameras to find the big cat’s corridors from across the border. Those cameras photographed a jaguar thought to be “the last wild jaguar in the United States.” His name was Macho B. ‘Macho’ is Spanish for male; he was the second one found within a few months. He roamed Tohono O’odham lands in southern Arizona from 1996, when he was first photographed in the Baboquivari Mountains, until early 2009 when he was illegally captured and died as a result of a project led by Arizona Game and Fish Department. This March marks ten years since Macho B’s death.
Then and now, the biggest threat to northern jaguar recovery is the border wall and waiving of environmental laws. But conservationists also need to address people as part of the solution, not the problem. Border residents should be the land managers of places where jaguars live, such as national parks and other Tribal and public lands. Migrants could be the caretakers of jaguars in their places of origin; yet they are forced to leave their lands because of the current climatic conditions, becoming climate refugees. This could be the direct or indirect result of U.S. trade agreements, inaction to address climate change, or resource extraction companies destroying places where jaguars and people coexist.
Last summer the jaguar known as Yo’oko (jaguar in Yaqui) was illegally killed in Sonora. This happened at the same time as migrant and refugee families were separated at the border by Immigration and Customs Enforcement when they put people in cages and tents while the Sonoran Desert reached over 100°F. I couldn’t help seeing myself in them; families like mine, coming from places like where I grew up. I had very little to say about that one dead jaguar.
As a wildlife biologist looking for jaguar corridors across the border I’ve been harassed by Border Patrol agents on foot, vehicles, helicopters, and checkpoints, and even by the militias. These encounters were regularly led by racial profiling—wrongly assuming I was crossing the border undocumented or questioning “jaguar research” as a legitimate reason to be there. I never had any of these issues south of the border. Living in the U.S. as an immigrant scientist—working on both sides of the border—and seeing the abuse and destruction by border law enforcement agencies, I changed my focus from conservation science to social justice and equity in conservation.
Sierra Club is breaking the paradigm of separating social and environmental justice. We have joined Indigenous communities to defend the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, land of the Gwich‘in Nation and Bears Ears National Monument. We stand alongside an Inter-Tribal Coalition formed by the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe, and in solidarity with the Tohono O’odham, whose land is bisected by the U.S.-Mexico border. We believe that the long term recovery and conservation of charismatic species like jaguars require that we acknowledge and address inequities in conservation, the history of the land, and the diverse cultures that are part of the world’s biodiversity. We owe it to Native and Indigenous communities, to Macho B with whom they shared the land, and to the future generations of people and jaguars.