Whistling for the Jaguar

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

Knowledge + Power = Culpability

McCain told the USFWS special agents and Asst. U.S. attorney that, “No one told him to stop or don’t do this.” And he is correct. Absolutely no one in a position of power to affect the AZGFD snaring project did so despite their knowledge that Macho B was vulnerable to being snared during the course of the AZGFD lion/bear snaring project. Their inaction is curious since all these people claimed that Macho B was not targeted for capture or they were unaware he could be captured. Below is a list of those people.

1. Jack Childs, founder of Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project & member of the Jaguar Conservation Team (BJDP was also considered the “research arm” of the JAGCT). Childs was McCain and I’s boss for BJDP. Childs was aware of the location of the snares and that they had been reactivated; that Macho B had been detected in the area; that, according to McCain,  jaguar scat was used occasionally at BJDP camera sites and Childs was also aware that several AZGFD snares were set at BJDP camera sites. Yet, when asked by Tony Davis of the AZ Daily Star about Macho B after his death, Childs wrote the following: “If Macho B had been collared in 2005 at a younger and more vigorous age utilizing the least invasive methodology available (hounds) we would have known his location in Feb. 2009 and would not have been trapping for lions in the area.” But Childs did know and did not contact AZGFD about the possibility of their capturing Macho B through their project in the BJDP’s study area and more importantly, Macho B’s territory, nor did he tell his employee, McCain, to deactivate the snares. Childs was aware of the risk to capture a jaguar through leg hold snares because he chaired a jaguar capture risk assessment committee for JAGCT (Bill Van Pelt of AZGFD was also a member of this committee). “This committee analyzed the potential risks to the jaguar, the capture team, and the public if an attempt was made to radio collar a jaguar.” The committee arrived at the following conclusions on 2-28-05: box trap poses the least risk, hounds pose the second least risk, and leg hold snares are the most risky. The risk assessment also concluded that the use of leg hold snares could cause tendon, joint, tooth, claw, and foot damage to a jaguar.

2. Erin Fernandez, “Jaguar Lead” for the Ecological Services Division of USFWS & member of JAGCT. Fernandez was aware, through emails, that McCain was working for AZGFD on the lion/bear snaring project; that on Jan. 5, 2009 McCain and Bristow had, “been planning the next trapping efforts to be focused in the east and west sides of the Atascosas…” (where Macho B was snared); that North Star had donated a jaguar telemetry collar to McCain; that McCain and Smith were seeking the proper drugs and dosages for a jaguar capture; and that Macho B’s photos and tracks had been detected in Jan. and Feb. 2009 in the Atascosas. Fernandez was also aware that a hunter had killed a collared lion in the Atascosas and the AZGFD snaring project was attempting to collar another animal in that area. That animal turned out to be Macho B. Fernandez is an employee of the USFWS, the agency responsible for endangered species protection and conservation. Yet, she did not reach out to anyone at AZGFD to find out what was going on; why preparations were being made for a jaguar capture; and why AZGFD did not inform her or her agency that they were planning on capturing the only known jaguar to exist in all of the United States.

3. Larry Voyles, Director of AZGFD. Smith went to him before the snares were reactivated on Feb. 4 for advice regarding opening snares in the “jaguar area” (Atascosas). Voyles was also briefed back in Dec. 2008 by AZGFD Endangered Species Coordinator, Terry Johnson, about the potential to capture a jaguar through the lion/bear snaring project. AZGFD was/is the lead agency, in partnership with New Mexico G&F and USFWS, for jaguar conservation. That is a scary thought since Voyles did absolutely nothing for jaguar conservation by ignoring the risk of capturing Macho B during his agency’s lion/bear project.

4. Terry Johnson, AZGFD Endangered Species Coordinator & JAGCT member. From the capture and collar authorization memo that he authored and sent to Voyles on 12-4-08 for review: “Efforts to trap and radio- collar mountain lions in southern Arizona for disease monitoring and movement studies are ongoing. One or more jaguars have been recorded in these study areas over the past several years (as recently as August 2008). Thus, inadvertent capture of a jaguar in a lion set (e.g. snare) is a reasonable possibility. If that occurs, the jaguar would need to be anesthetized to remove it from the set. This would afford an opportunity to place a radio-collar on the jaguar, at no additional risk to the animal.” Johnson was also aware of Macho B’s most recent detections in the Atascosas from Jan. and Feb. 2009. As Endangered Species Coordinator, Johnson was responsible for jaguar conservation yet he did nothing to prevent the possible snaring of Macho B though he, himself, deemed, Macho B “too old” and not a “viable” candidate for capturing and collaring.

5. Bill Van Pelt, AZGFD and JAGCT member. Van Pelt had been approached by 3 people in the weeks before Macho B’s capture inquiring about permits for a jaguar capture. He was told by fellow employee, Thompson, “that snaring was occurring in the area and an animal (jaguar) could be caught as early as that weekend “(First weekend in Feb.). He had been forwarded the email chain regarding McCain and Smith seeking drug and dosage advice for a jaguar capture, and was a recipient of the email notifications regarding Macho B’s latest detections including the photos and tracks from Jan.&Feb. 2009. He, too, was aware of the risks of snaring a jaguar as a member of the risk assessment committee that Childs chaired for JAGCT in 2005.

6. Ron Thompson, AZGFD. McCain regarded Thompson as his “boss” on the snaring project and sought his advice repeatedly with regard to snaring in Macho B’s territory. Thompson was aware of the latest detections of Macho B in the snaring area, including his tracks on the trap line. Thompson assured McCain that AZGFD had the proper permits if a jaguar was captured and provided Smith a copy of AZGFD’s Section 6 permit (authorizing an inadvertent capture of a jaguar). Thomspon did alert Van Pelt and Chasa O’Brien about the possibility of Macho B being captured through the lion/bear study. But, he did not discourage McCain or Smith from snaring in Macho B’s territory or encourage them to speak to their actual “boss” on the snaring project, Kirby Bristow, with regard to Macho B’s detections in the vicinity of the snares.

7. Chasa O’Brien, AZGFD and lead biologist for snaring project. Thompson had told her on several occasions, ” You know, you could incidentally capture a jaguar on this study.” Dr. Aguilar had also forwarded her the email chain from the beginning of Feb. 2009 regarding McCain and Smith seeking drug and dosage advice for a jaguar capture. She was responsible for completing the Environmental Assessment Checklist for the snaring project but never did. Even when Bristow had sought advice about completing an EAC for the snaring project in January 2009, O’Brien did not bring the possibility of capturing a jaguar during the snaring project to the attention of the Habitat Branch whom oversees the EAC process.

8. Kirby Bristow, AZGFD and field supervisor for snaring project. Bristow had been aware from the start about the possibility of capturing a jaguar during the course of the lion/bear study. Yet, he did not give his field team guidance about what to do and whom to notify if there was evidence of a jaguar in the snaring area. As he said, “He does not recall, specifically, telling field team to advise him if they discovered evidence of a jaguar in the study area. Nor did he specifically advise anyone to avoid catching a jaguar at all costs.”

This is what jaguar conservation looks like in Arizona and the United States. Is the negligence demonstrated by the individuals whom were professionally and legally responsible for jaguar conservation indicative of state and federal attitudes towards the conservation of all endangered species?


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2 thoughts on “Knowledge + Power = Culpability

  1. george hail on said:

    Oh! The FWS Regional Director knew and was protected by LE SAC Nicholas Chavez and his assistant Jill Birchell. She is an attorney and they acted as the regional director’s defense attorney team but gave case briefings (information from federal investigators) to the regional director with inside investigative information as he was a potential defendant! They obstructed the investigation and wanted you charged because of your allegations. Some people know this, one good le manager left because of this issue as he was upset over this illegal activity! Dig it up……….Good luck!

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