Whistling for the Jaguar

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

The Investigation: Bill Van Pelt, part 2

After Macho B was snared and collared Van Pelt was designated as one of the leads for his agency, AZGFD, in regards to Macho B. His primary responsibilities were to be updated by McCain on Macho B’s movements and then brief AZGFD officials about that information. Van Pelt stated:

It was AZGFD’s decision not to have access to the satellite telemetry collar data for Macho B’s locations because the AZGFD did not want to have to give the data to the public with the open records requests.

Therefore, they relied on McCain to interpret Macho B’s collar data and to keep the AZGFD updated. Van Pelt first raised a concern about Macho B’s non-movement post capture on February 24, but he bowed to McCain’s hypothesis that Macho B was on a kill. Three days later, McCain started to concede that something could be wrong with Macho B but instead of consulting with Van Pelt and Terry Johnson, the AZGFD leads, he contacted Ron Thompson (carnivore biologist for AZGFD and advisor to McCain on snaring project) and Thorry Smith about going in to get a visual on Macho B. Van Pelt learned about this and became “frustrated and organized a slightly different group to go check on Macho B.” Van Pelt, Smith, and Kurt Bahti attempted to get a visual assessment of Macho B’s health and condition on February 28th but failed. Two days later Macho B was recaptured after a visual assessment was successful by Smith and an AZGFD contract vet, Ole Alcumbrac, whom determined Macho B was possibly in renal failure. After Macho B was recaptured he was brought to the Phoenix Zoo. Van Pelt was at the Zoo and apart of the discussion about options for Macho B after it was determined he was in renal failure, had lost a good amount of mobility in both legs, had an abscess in his left hind leg, and a canine that was broken to the root. The decision to euthanize Macho B was recommended by the zoo vet, Dr. Dean Rice and agreed upon by Van Pelt and Alcumbrac. They called AZGFD Deputy Director, Gary Hovatter and Steve Spangle of the USFWS to get their thoughts and both men concurred with the decision to euthanize Macho B. Van Pelt stated:

During the discussions we asked about the disposition of the animal and the possibility of a cosmetic necropsy to preserve the skin for mounting. It was thought the skin or mount could be used for educational or scientific purposes. This type of necropsy would not prevent the Zoo’s ability in determining the cause of decline in Macho B’s health. The USFWS concurred with the decision to euthanize and recommended a cosmetic necropsy.

The USFWS Southwest Regional Director, Benjamin Tuggle claims he agreed with the decision of euthanizing Macho B but did not agree to a cosmetic necropsy and in fact asked for a full necropsy.

Three days after Macho B was killed Van Pelt represented AZGFD at a joint press conference with USFWS and the Phoenix Zoo (see blogroll for link). The press conference concerned Macho B’s recapture and the decision to euthanize him.

A few highlights from Van Pelt:
1. Looking back on the matter, AZGFD would not change a thing.
2. The jaguar appeared healthy.
This is in reference to Macho B’s initial capture. Twelve days after Macho B “appeared healthy” he was euthanized. That is a remarkably rapid decline in his health. In that time frame Macho B lost eighteen pounds, lost mobility in his hind left leg and most in his hind rear leg and had barely moved for eleven straight days prior to being recaptured.
3. The AZGFD Research Branch (responsible for the snaring project) would be able to answer the decision making process on where the snares were set in an area where Macho B had frequented the past 13 years.

Regarding jaguar scat being used at the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project camera sites, Van Pelt told the USFWS SAs, “He remembered there had been “discussions” in using jaguar scat but did not know it was actually being used at the BJDP cameras.”

In the northern portion of the jaguars’ range (Northern Mexico) there had been several deaths of snared jaguars. McCain had been involved in one of the snaring deaths of an “old, male” jaguar. Concern arose about snaring jaguars in northern Mexico and in southern Arizona so the Jaguar Conservation Team formed a risk assessment team, of which Van Pelt was a member, and that team recommended, “the use of hounds to tree a jaguar to minimize harm to the animal and capture personnel.” Even though Van Pelt was part of the team that recommended using hounds not snares to capture a jaguar safely, Van Pelt  stated:

He does not agree that the Northern population of jaguars is susceptible to adverse effects from snaring (at this point, including Macho B, three out of four snared jaguars in the northern portion of jaguar range had died immediately or days after their capture and the fourth animal slipped her collar shortly after being snared so her fate remains a mystery).

He blamed the deaths of the snared jaguars in Sonora of which McCain was apart of one death on:
1. Improper training
2. Improper equipment
3. High ambient temperatures
“If conducted properly,” Van Pelt, “has no concerns of snaring jaguars.”

Van Pelt was not asked by the USFWS SAs nor did he give his opinion if Macho B’s snaring and handling were conducted properly, nor if his post-capture movements, or non-movements in Macho B’s case, were monitored properly and with Macho B’s health and safety in mind.

In the end, Van Pelt stated:

He feels as if  ‘we got played’  and described communication loopholes, a blending of projects (AZGFD snaring project & BJDP) and McCain’s hiring as contributing factors.

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