Whistling for the Jaguar

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


I learned of Macho B’s death from Jack Childs. Besides telling me of Macho B’s health diagnosis he also stated he was glad Macho B had been captured and collared and wouldn’t have changed a thing. He also tried to liken Macho B’s legacy to Smokey the Bear. I wanted to reach through my phone and punch the old bastard. I also received a phone message from Smith who said he had kissed Macho B goodbye for me. I literally got sick until I was dry heaving when I heard those words. But, I emailed Smith thanking him and asked how he was. McCain left me several messages after Macho B was killed and I finally replied to him in an email; ” I’ve gotten your messages, thank you. I just don’t know what to say. My heart is shattered… I am at a loss.” McCain replied: ” I don’t know what to tell you. I can only imagine your feelings, as I know you were closer to him spiritually than anyone. I am so sorry… I just wish that (sic) had taken him home to pass on in his own way. I can assure you that I begged and pleaded with them to do so. Hang tough Janay. He is at peace now and we must keep his legacy alive…” When I read McCain’s reply I was numb with rage, guilt, and shame because I had placed scat, at the direction of McCain, at the snare site where Macho B was captured. Though at the time I did not believe scat had ever lured Macho B to an area, rather the opposite, I had to reconsider that belief because of where he was caught (I did not know another snare and been set on the trap line, without scat, and that Macho B would have been caught at that snare if it had not been tampered with). I was coming to terms with the fact that I was partly responsible for his capture and possibly his death. That meant I betrayed the very being that put me on the path to witness and experience so much beauty and wonder in the desert. That meant I did not protect him and I did nothing to prevent his capture and thus, I enabled it to occur.

From Macho B’s capture to after his death I tried to keep up with all the press releases and reports. Reading them I was struck over and over with how full of b.s. they were and seemed. At this point I only knew a few pieces of the puzzle: that Macho B had been documented near the snare sites; that snares had been placed in his territory; snares had been re-activated after Macho B was detected in the general snaring area; that I was directed to place jaguar scat at BJDP camera sites and a snare within the BJDP/AZGFD study area; that the biologist for BJDP was the one who chose the snare sites; and that permits were in place for the placement of the scat and snaring of Macho B. Yet, in the press, Macho B’s capture was continuously characterized as “accidental” or “inadvertent.” I believed this was because of an answer I had received while in the field with McCain and Smith on February 4.

After we had left the first camera/snare site I asked both of them what the protocol was for alerting AZGFD that Macho B was in the area of the snares (The previous day McCain had picked up three new pics of him at a camera site about a dozen crow miles away. On this day we would retrieve one pic of Macho B a few miles away from the snares, and the following day, McCain, Smith, and their co-worker Michelle Crabb, would find his 2 week old track set on the trap line). Smith replied that, “Game and Fish doesn’t want to know if a jaguar is in the area until after the snares are closed or a jaguar is caught.” I took that to mean that AZGFD wanted plausible deniability. For about a year, McCain had been telling me there was a role reversal in the Jaguar Conservation Team (JAGCT) and now the agencies were on board with capturing and collaring a jaguar, while the environmental groups were opposed. So I thought this was AZGFD’s way of getting what they wanted without having to answer to the environmental groups, by creating a buffer of silence between them and the snaring field team. It wasn’t until after I came forward that I realized the plausible deniability was probably a legal tactic to protect AZGFD from not having the proper permits for Macho B’s capture; protection for not consulting with USFWS pre-capture as the agencies had agreed; and had something to do with the protocol for an inadvertent capture versus an intentional one (more on this in the future).

I spoke to McCain briefly on the phone when he returned from Spain. I wanted to get together and talk about Macho B’s capture and death. I had planned to record our conversation in case information I was unaware of was spoken about. I had become increasingly suspicious that there was much more that went on with Macho B’s capture than I knew. McCain and I were not able to get together because of our schedules; I was care-taking a ranch and then heading east for my Grandma’s memorial service while McCain was heading south to participate in several jaguar research projects in Sonora, Mexico. But McCain did tell me money was pouring into BJDP and he needed me to take on more responsibility because he was going to become more involved with projects in Sonora.

When I was back east I logged onto the AZ Daily Star website to check the progress of a forest fire that had begun burning when I left. The image I saw shocked me as it was worse than my imaginings.

The picture was from the AZGFD capture and the title of the article was, “Did Macho B have to die?” (see blogroll for link to article). In the article it was proposed that Macho B might have been suffering from dehydration not kidney failure. This jives with the email McCain/Aguilar read from a biologist/Professor who wrote about Telazol (the drug used on Macho B at his initial capture) causing dehydration in a bear that lead to the animal’s kidney failure and then death (see “Two Bits” post). After reading the article I emailed McCain, repeating several questions I had brought up on the day he and Smith re-activated the snares:

” What I hoped to have spoken with you about face to face can no longer wait. Were you fully aware of ALL the risks to Macho B or any other animal when you decided to re-open the snares in Penasco after we had just picked up his picture? Did you consider these when you initially placed the snares in a canyon with a history of jaguar usage? Two years ago you sat at my desk and told me of a biologist killing five or six jaguars because of snare trapping. You stated then that snares shouldn’t be used on jaguars. Though it is impossible to predict where an animal will be at any given time let alone where it will place it’s feet there was a chance that Macho B could be snarred (sic) through the lion and bear project and we tempted fate further by placing the scat at the trap site. I am so disgusted with myself that I did not do anything to stop those snares from being opened. My regret is that I mindlessly placed the scat there because you told me to do it.

Game and Fish continues to be evasive. They lied about Macho B’s activity in Penasco and the distance between the camera site (where Macho B’s pic was retrieved on Feb. 4) and the trap site. Bill Van Pelt lied about not knowing who placed the snares. They lied about not knowing the jaguar was Macho B from the start. There was no mention of Macho B having hypothermia. Your involvement with the Game and Fish study was never mentioned. Neither you nor Jack (Childs) have corrected the inconsistencies with Game and Fish’s statements. Why?

And today I read in AZ Daily Star that Macho B did not die from kidney failure, his body is being stuffed, and a thorough examination of his organs, tissues, etc. could not be performed because G&F thought it was more important to preserve his pelt, instead of examining everything his body could tell us of why he died.

This is the same agency that leaked Macho B’s whereabouts in his northern range, and probably Macho A’s in Penasco, did nothing about snares being placed on the other side of the ridge from him on a property in his northern territory (side note: A trapper on private land set leg-hold traps (think unpadded, steel jaws) for coyotes, bobcats, foxes. The traps happened to be on the other side of a ridge from Macho B but in an area he might have used in his travels. Landowner had been made aware, courtesy of AZGFD, of Macho B’s presence. McCain, his friend, and I set all the traps off and alerted AZGFD as we thought Macho B was the target.), and did nothing about the bounty placed on his head (side note: The bounty was a rumor for years but I was able to confirm from several people that a $500 bounty was offered by a landowner in the southern portion of Macho B’s range to locals for the head of any predator, including a jaguar). This is also the agency that instructed Thorry to not alert them to jaguar presence or the possibility of snarring (sic) a jaguar until after the traps were closed or the jag was caught.

Macho B gave all of us involved with the project purpose. Is this how we show our respect to him and thank him, by remaining silent? Macho B might have stepped into that snare on purpose but it was no gift ( in reference to an essay McCain wrote about Macho B’s snaring and death) to any of us, let alone him. It was a statement on his part, a final lesson, on leaving things be.”

McCain responded by forwarding an email Terry Johnson (AZGFD) had sent out to various people stating his full answers had not been quoted in the “Did Macho B Have to Die?” article so he included them in his email for people to read.

I wasn’t sure what my next step was. I was in the dilemma I had been on Feb. 4 when the snares were re-activated. Who do I contact about Macho B being targeted for capture? On the 4th I was lead to believe everything was above-board, but in my mind it wasn’t right to go after an elderly animal despite McCain’s claim when I brought that concern up, “that he knew what he was doing.” On the 4th I believed AZGFD and USFWS were aware that Macho B was vulnerable to being snared and they approved it because they allowed snares to be placed in Macho B’s known territory. I also knew that McCain and I’s boss on BJDP, Jack Childs, was a supporter for capture and wouldn’t believe or listen to my concerns. So who do I call to report that wildlife agencies are targeting an old, endangered animal for capture, the police? In this case, I decided to contact a reporter from the AZ Daily Star, Tony Davis, whom had authored several articles about Macho B. I sent him a “statement” informing him that Penasco (where Macho B was trapped) was a canyon with a history of jaguar detections; that Macho B had been detected close to the snares through photographs and tracks; that I was directed to place jag scat at the snare that ended up catching Macho B; that Macho B was hypothermic at capture; and that experienced trappers called the snares used in Macho B’s capture, “kill snares” ( I had spoken with a local trapper after Macho B’s death).

I sent my statement to Davis in full awareness that I was probably about to kill the life I was leading, a life I loved very much. But, unlike Macho B, my heart would continue to beat.


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