Whistling for the Jaguar

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

Day 12: March 1

Jack Childs emails McCain and Van Pelt: “What do you make of the cluster points from last night? This is what I would expect if he has made a kill. The kills I observed in the Pantanal the jaguar stayed close to the kill and did not leave it alone for the day as lions do…”

I have to interject here as FINALLY! someone acknowledges that Macho B is a jaguar, not a lion (aka puma, cougar). There are documented differences in how jaguars and lions feed. Lions tend to kill, eat, cover their kills with whatever material is available (grass, rocks, twigs, leaves, etc.) and then rest/digest nearby to repeat this eating/resting pattern until they are done feeding upon the carcass. Jaguars tend to kill and then gorge, finishing their meal in one to two dining sessions. They don’t cover their prey and tend to stay at their kill or close by until they are done eating and then move on. The experience Childs refers to in the Pantanal was a Phoenix Zoo sponsored trip for three weeks to learn about jaguars. Childs and his former hunting partner, whom also went, observed four jaguar kills. Though this is the beginning of learning about feeding behavior in jaguars it is by no means a comprehensive education. In fact, between Childs, McCain, Smith, Thompson, Van Pelt, et. al, they had ZERO experience in safely immobilizing and collaring a jaguar and successfully monitoring a jaguar, long-term, post capture. And yet, the JAGCT scientific advisory board had several biologists with such real world experience and they were never consulted during this fatal time of incessant “he must be on a kill” theorizing.

McCain responds to Childs’ email: “… This is very similar to the kill sites I have observed form (sic) the lions I collared… Also the site he is in, is a much more likely hunting/kill site that (sic) the rock pile where he has been. Also the pattern of movement prior to this cluster suggested he was hunting. I would say there is a very good chance he is on a kill… Is Thorry going back in there today?”

Van Pelt responds: “Thorry did go back in today. He was going to check the meat caches we left out…”

McCain replies: “Thanks for the updates. And a BIG thanks to you, Thorry and Kurt for going in on the ground yesterday. I am glad you found tracks and a bed site and not a sick jaguar. Hopefully Thorry can get a visual today… I am very curious to check that site where he is now after he leave (sic). In the end I am glad that we responded the way we did with the site visit. As you know I was very skeptical of doing it until the locations appeared to show the cat was moving less and less everyday, only moving downhill and spend (sic) more and more time hidden under rocks etc. When he seemed to be stationary down in the canyon bottom, I really started to think the worst case scenario. I am glad you went in and checked the site out. I think in the end it is better to act and know what is going on. And after the ten days, the animal is either OK or he is not. At that point we needed to know… I am sorry that I was unavailable and have been basically out of reach, (redacted). I am sure that coordination and communication will greatly improve once I return. However, I am now even more confident in our team.”

Meanwhile…

Smith bought more meat for Macho B and met Dr. Alcumbrac and two of his vet techs at Bear Valley Ranch. From Smith’s recounting of the day’s events: ” I directed redacted and redacted on the north slope of the canyon some distance apart so they would have a decent chance of seeing Macho B if Ole and I pushed him out in front of us before we had a look at him… Dr. Alcumbrac and I climbed up opposite sides of a high point on the south side of the canyon where I thought Macho B was laid up, but upon reaching the summit the GPS unit… said the cat’s position was away from my guess some distance to the south. Dr. Alcumbrac with dart rifle in hand motioned me to him and we approached the waypoint together. A covey of quail blew out from under us as we approached to a close distance. Then 20 m away we saw Macho B get to his feet and stumble away. He looked like his (sic) was in a stupor and I called for Ole to dart him as he was not acting right. (I want to inform readers that no arrangements had been made yet for the transport of Macho B to a medical facility or for a medical facility to receive and treat Macho B) Ole shot but the dart glanced of (sic) his upper left rump and we could see the dart spew out the ketamine/medetomidine into the air… Ole waved redacted to come across the canyon with the medical gear. Ole told me he estimated a 20% lose (sic) in body weight judging from pictures of the original capture and that it looked as though he was in the throws of renal failure. ” According to Dr. Alcumbrac: ” The jaguar looked weak and wobbly when the jaguar walked and he (Dr. Alcumbrac) thought, as per his visual observance, it was an indication of renal failure which is common in older cats. When their kidneys fail the cat is sort of ‘drunk’ from the toxins in the blood.”

Back to Smith: “Macho B walked slowly into the deep brush and after I took my eyes off him to call to Ole he was gone. I had taken the VHF beacon off of his collar to prevent him from being poached; something I’ve grown to suspect with VHF telemetry during recent projects. At this point we could not go to him using VHF telemetry but would have to wait until another satellite waypoint came in 2-3 hours from then. I called Van Pelt on the satellite phone and explained the situation and told him we would try to call Emil for the next waypoint … After some more time trying to find him in the bushes it became apparent that waiting for the next waypoint would put us into an evening capture and an all night effort. I felt it best to return and make a game plan for a better capture probability the following day… We got out in the dark and I got in contact with Gary Hovatter (Deputy Director of AZGFD) and Bill Van Pelt who along with redacted and others had begun major arrangements for the following day. We had a helicopter, a professional houndsman and plenty of qualified personnel on the ground for the next day…”

When Thorry and Dr. Alcumbrac arrived at Macho B’s location McCain sent the following email to Van Pelt and a string of redacted names: “Update! So it appears that Thorry and Ole have arrived at the site. The cat has just moved 425 m to the southeast and gained 275 feet elevation… They had apparently not arrived by the 11 AM upload, as the cat was still in the same exact spot. However, by the 2 PM upload, the cat had high-tailed it for high ground. Apparently yesterday Thorry found tracks where Macho B appeared to be moving very slowly, causing him continued concern for the animal (sic) general condition… He was not that concerned with the foot, but the fact that he seemed to be moving so slow made Thorry think about the old cat’s general condition. I hope they were able to get a visual today, but at least we know that Macho B can move out if need be and they will will (sic) know what was going on at that last site. I highly expect a kill. Lets (sic) hope so. And if it was a kill, it appears that he was on it for enough time to feed well. I think there is no harm in obtaining this peace of mind…”

Later McCain emails Childs to ask him to “push AZGFD” to use Childs’ former hunting partner if they decide to use hounds when going after Macho B the next day. He closes with: “Also I want you to know that if they feel they can quickly turn the situation around, great. If not, do not bring him into captivity to die. That is not fair for a jaguar who has reined over the Atascosas… and countless unknown wild places. ”

Childs responds that his former hunting partner (whom was also present with Childs when hounds first treed Macho B in 1996) no longer communicates with him and that the wildlife services guy that will be going in, “has more experienced hounds being a full time hunter.” Childs ends the email; “We should let Ole make the call on his chances for survival. He is obviously a sick cat and deserves to be healed and released if possible.”

Van Pelt and Hovatter have been making arrangements for the next day’s capture including: asking permission from USFWS Southwest Director, Benjamin Tuggle, for the re-capture; obtaining a helicopter and houndsman for the effort; making arrangements with the Phoenix Zoo to receive Macho B; coordinating ground personnel and delegating press/information responsibilities. Hovatter forwards the emails to Johnson, still on medical leave, to “keep him in the loop.” Hovatter also makes arrangements for, “tests that can be run with the frozen, separated blood that we have currently at Melanie Culver’s lab at U of A.” He continues: “There is some concern that a test for potential renal failure may be compromised since they need to be run on serum and freezing of whole blood causes lysing of the blood cells which can interfere with the tests. However, Melanie has indicated that the blood and serum had already separated before freezing (though remained in the same tube), so the test may work…”

In an internal AZGFD email Van Pelt or Hovatter writes in part: “The thought is Macho B may have had a pre-existing condition prior to capture, and hopefully, redacted will have more information for us in the morning. This will assist the Phoenix Zoo in determining the most effective treatment prior to the arrival of Macho B. The top priority will be to stabilize the animal… Once the animal is stabilized, we need to discuss what options to do with the animal next. Redacted knows of some expertise care for Macho B we will want to weigh very carefully…”

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