Whistling for the Jaguar

The un-redacted story of the jaguar, Macho B's snaring and death.

Should we, shouldn’t we?

On February 3, 2009 McCain and a BJDP volunteer went to check cameras in the Tumacacori Mountains in southern AZ. The volunteer brought along the jaguar scat that was picked up the day before from the Phoenix Zoo. Three cameras were checked and a new one was set up. Jaguar scat was placed at all four camera sites. At the last established camera site they retrieved three new pictures of Macho B taken on January 3, 17, and the 21st (This camera was the only one in the area to ever photograph Macho B. His photo was taken here multiple times over the course of three years). These were the first images of Macho B since his August detection in the nearby Atascosa Mountains. The picture from the 21st was of Macho B heading south, toward the Atascosa Mountains.

While leaving the area McCain made several calls; one to me to inform me of the new photo detections and then one to his AZGFD snaring co-worker, Thorry Smith. The volunteer was sitting in the passenger seat of McCain’s truck and able to hear McCain’s side of the conversation with Smith. McCain informed Smith of the new photos he picked up of Macho B. Then a “should we, shouldn’t we” discussion began about whether they should still activate snares the following day as planned. According to the volunteer, McCain said, “they needed to discuss whether they would go forward with opening snares because there was a possibility Macho B could be captured if he returned to the area where the snares were going to be set” (The Atascosa Mountains where Macho B had been routinely documented since 2004). There was also discussion about getting different drugs in case Macho B was snared as McCain said, “jaguars are more sensitive than mountain lions and can’t handle the same kind of drugs.” McCain also mentioned that they needed to speak to Ron Thompson about what to do next. Cell phone reception was in and out so the conversation was cut off before a decision about opening the snares had been made.

Smith contacted Ron Thompson about the permits necessary in case Macho B was captured. Thompson went to AZGFD non-game biologist, Bill Van Pelt, to inquire if AZGFD was covered by a permit if a jaguar was caught during the lion/bear snaring project because “they are trapping down in the area.” Van Pelt told him they were covered for an incidental capture and provided Thompson with a copy of AZGFD’s Section 6 incidental permit (section 6 of Endangered Species Act). Thompson emailed the permit to Smith.

Smith also approached AZGFD Director Larry Voyles and Deputy Director Gary Hovatter. According to Smith he informed them snaring would be commencing soon in the jaguar area (Atascosa Mtns.) and that they had a jaguar telemetry collar. Smith was asking them for advice and they directed him to speak with AZGFD Endangered Species Coordinator, Terry Johnson. Smith went to his office but it was already late in the day and Johnson was gone. Smith never ended up speaking to him.

That night McCain sent out an informal email to several people including Thompson, Smith, and Jack Childs with the latest Macho B photos attached along with the following message: “Well, well look at that! Now, some have called him geriatric in recent times. I’d like to hear them say that to his face! Look at that healthy animal.”

McCain also sent a formal notification to USFWS and AZGFD about Macho B’s latest photos including the mountain range name, dates of the photos, UTM coordinates of the camera site and the photos. AZGFD’s Johnson and Van Pelt along with USFWS’s Erin Fernandez were recipients of this email notification (Van Pelt and Fernandez had also been notified this day by Dr. Aguilar that McCain and Smith were seeking the proper drugs and dosages for a possible jaguar capture).

Also, a few days prior, Smith had emailed McCain that AZGFD Research Branch Chief, Chasa O’Brien, was working on that ever elusive Environmental Assessment for the snaring project in case a jaguar was caught (it was never done).

That night McCain called me to say that Smith would be joining us the next day to check the BJDP cameras. He wanted to show Smith the area and his snare sets because he was going out of town in a few days and Smith needed to know where the snares were located so he could activate them without McCain. I was not aware at this time that a decision had to be made by Smith and McCain whether to activate the AZGFD snares the next day nor that they had decided they would.

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