The Investigation: Ron Thompson, Part 1
Ron Thompson was the lion and bear manager for AZGFD and retired in 2010. He had previously worked in law enforcement for AZGFD and USFWS before that. Currently he is involved in the University of Arizona jaguar study.
I would say that biologists have killed more jaguars than other causes. Ron Thompson
Thompson recommended McCain for the AZGFD lion and bear snaring project. To him, it was a “no brainer” since McCain knew the area and had experience snaring lions. McCain, by his own admission, considered Thompson his boss on the snaring project though Thompson was not apart of it. About a month into McCain’s involvement in the snaring project a new picture of Macho B was retrieved from one of the BJDP cameras. It was the first photo of Macho B in over a year. He emailed Thompson the news that Macho B was alive and well. Thompson responded: “Great news of Macho B. I would like to reemphasize the need to watch the trapping situation and to know if there is a possibility of snaring him soon.” When asked by the USFWS SAs about this email Thompson explained: “… there was a warning from me that, you guys don’t be accidentally or even near that thing (Macho B) when you’re snaring… right there was a warning and a reemphasis to those guys that it could happen. If there’s any possibility of snaring him soon, then they need to probably rethink the whole effort in that area. And that’s how it was portrayed… to anybody that was working on that project.”
No one wants to catch a jaguar in a snare. Jaguars are frequently caught in snares in South America then they die and maybe you don’t hear about it. But in general, researchers do not like to catch jaguars in snares because they are very sensitive to handling and capture. Ron T.
One of the reasons snares were re-activated in Macho B’s known territory Feb. 09 was because AZGFD wanted to “replace” a previously collared lion from that area that had been providing the snaring project cross-border data. This young, female lion had been killed by a hunter in January 09. According to Thompson: “The trophy hunt was auctioned by Safari Club International. And for some reason, out of all the places they could go in the state of AZ, they come down to Bear Valley (where the female lion had been snared and collared in Nov. and then killed in Jan. Also where Macho B would be snared in Feb.). And it was a female, collared female, and it weighed like 55-60 pounds. And REDACTED kills it… And I called REDACTED (it is the guy who guided the “hunt”) and asked him why. He goes, ‘Well, because the client was old, and we just happened to catch it by the road and so we killed it.'”
Thompson goes on to share his experiences in Prescott, AZ, where there was a 60% mortality rate for collared lions on an AZGFD urban-lion study. It was suspected by researchers that hunters were able to access the frequencies of the collars on the lions and “hunt” them that way. That same method of “hunting” was suspected in the female lion’s death at Bear Valley.
Thompson continued: “But, anyways, this guy that caught this thing (the lion) had actually put collars on for us before in the desert… he was kind of a friend of the Department’s (AZGFD). And just, he knew the study was going on (the snaring project)…”
Thompson told the USFWS SAs McCain “did not have a permit to collar a jaguar.” He continued, “He was under contract with us at the time, and that’s the nuance that changed in this whole thing.” McCain told the USFWS SAs that he had asked Thompson about catching a jaguar, Macho B, during the snaring project and Thompson’s response was that AZGFD had permits and “If he gets caught-He gets caught.”
On Feb. 3rd, McCain picked up three new photos of Macho B. He had last been photographed in August. According to the BJDP volunteer that was with McCain that day, McCain called Smith to let him know of Macho B’s presence near the snaring area and then they had a should we/shouldn’t we discussion about re-activating the AZGFD snares the next day (see post titled Should we/Shouldn’t we). In addition, McCain told Smith that they needed to “talk to Ron Thompson about what to do as well.” The conversation between McCain and Smith occurred sometime between 2-4pm. After Smith and McCain spoke, Smith contacted Ron Thompson to find out about AZGFD’s Section 6 incidental take permit for an inadvertent jaguar capture. Thompson went to Bill Van Pelt of AZGFD around 3:30ish to get the info Smith requested. According to Van Pelt: “Ron mentioned that there was sign (jaguar) all over down south… and he wanted to make sure we were covered for incidental take… As we were exiting my office, Ron mentioned the possibility of capturing an animal starting this weekend. I told him we were covered for any incidental capture and hopefully we had someone skilled with handling cats. Ron said the trapper was Thorry Smith. This was the first time I had heard of Thorry being a cat trapper and took Ron’s word the person was experienced at handling cats.”
When asked by the USFWS SAs if he had any knowledge about the pictures of Macho B picked up by McCain prior to his conversation with Van Pelt or any information about when the snares were going to be re-activated Thompson said he didn’t find out about Macho B’s latest pictures until that night, around 7:30 when McCain sent out his email notification to the agencies. Thompson also said he was unaware of when the snares were going to be re-activated and “if he had been told there were recent sightings of Macho B in the area, he would have recommended that the snares not be reopened. You’re asking for trouble.” But clearly, Thompson was aware of Macho B’s pics as he references them as “sign all over down south” and the possibility of Macho B being snared before he spoke to Van Pelt about the Section 6. He also knew when the snares were going to be re-activated because he told Van Pelt the trapper would be Smith. McCain would have been the trapper but he was leaving for vacation two days later, something Thompson was also aware of.
The next day McCain found an older set of Macho B’s tracks on the snare line and showed them to Smith and Crabb. And according to McCain, he later called Thompson and informed him about the possibility of snaring Macho B. Again, according to McCain, Thompson asked him if he was “comfortable with Smith’s ability to capture a jaguar” and McCain replied, “Smith was confident and competent.” Thompson replied, “Interesting that’s not what you told me before.” Thompson supposedly thought Smith was “a good handler, but not a good trapper.” But in the end, he supposedly agreed with McCain’s assessment of Smith.