Whistling for the Jaguar

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

The Investigation: Ron Thompson, part 2

So Thompson whom had been concerned about Macho B getting snared back in November when a picture taken of him from August was retrieved had no concern when pictures were retrieved of Macho B close to the snaring area and were taken just two weeks before the snares were re-activated. Odd. Thompson had approached Chasa O’Brien, the branch chief and boss on the snaring project, in the months prior to warn her that a jaguar could be caught during the snaring project. McCain consistently went to Thompson for advice and Thompson never suggested bringing Macho B’s recent, mid to late January, presence close to the snares to the lead field biologist on the snaring project, Kirby Bristow, nor his boss, Chasa O’Brien. He also didn’t advise Smith to do the same. And according to McCain, when he first became involved with the snaring project, Thompson told him, “I want you to put those snares in the very best locations. Do you know what I mean?” To McCain, he thought “this was a disguised, but clear direction to capture a jaguar, but not enough to get him in trouble.”

And neither Thompson or Van Pelt advised the Endangered Species Coordinator, Terry Johnson about the possibility of Macho B getting snared during this time period. This strikes me as odd because Thompson and Van Pelt were recipients of Johnson’s email that spoke about talking to Director Voyles about Macho B and that he, Johnson, was “putting the final touches on an authorization to capture and collar memo.” It seems this would have been a good time to reach out to Johnson for some clarification on the matter; was there a permit for an intentional and/or inadvertent capture of a jaguar if “an animal could be caught as early as the weekend” ? Also, Johnson was the Jaguar Lead for their agency so a heads up to him about Macho B’s vulnerability to being snared seems like a basic professional, co-worker courtesy, if not responsibility. Yet, there was silence.

Macho B was snared and collared by Smith and Crabb on February 18th. After watching over Macho B for six hours while he recovered from the drug, Telazol enough to leave the capture site, the first person Smith called about the capture was Thompson, not his direct boss, Bristow. Apparently, despite all the preparation Smith made for an “inadvertent capture” of Macho B, he was unsure whom to call first. Thompson directed him to take it up the chain of command.

Thompson told the USFWS SAs that he felt that “they screwed up by catching the jaguar” yet in an email to McCain the next day Thompson writes in part: “As for the other cat, all your hard work and knowledge paid off. It could not have happened without you. Thorry was so excited we were yelling and hooping over the phone and I was not even there. I hope I armed Thorry enough with the Section 6 wording and answers to not get him in trouble…”

Seven days after Macho B was captured McCain emailed Thompson for advice. Macho B had barely moved and Van Pelt had suggested getting a visual health assessment of Macho B though McCain shot down the idea and hypothesized that Macho B could have been on a kill. So McCain forwards Thompson all the emails between him and Van Pelt and Johnson and asks for Thompson’s advice on what to do next. Thompson basically supports McCain and his making the call on going in for a visual assessment or to check if Macho B is on a kill. Thompson also cautions McCain, “As humans we are great at impacting our study animals to the point that their welfare is negatively impacted…” McCain decides that Macho B should not be “harassed” and sticks with his “he is on a kill theory.”

Interestingly, Thompson did not give McCain the advice that Thompson himself followed when he captured older animals. With regard to Macho B’s age and the capture, Thompson said: “It should have been considered. It’s like trying to catch a 96 year old man… it’s more precarious. And just again, me working with mountain lions, I think they deserve special (INAUDIBLE); younger ones, you don’t have to worry about. Those older ones, I’m back the next day doing health checks on them for quite a while to make sure that they’re okay.”

Days later when McCain decided something could be wrong with Macho B he called Thompson and asked if he could be involved in checking on Macho B. Thompson agreed and got permission from his superiors but Van Pelt excluded Thompson when they initially tried to get a visual on Macho B. Thompson couldn’t get there in time anyway but was present for the re-capture. He played a back-up role and just hung around Bear Valley Ranch until Macho B was captured and then airlifted to the Phoenix Zoo.

The USFWS SAs asked Thompson if he spoke to McCain after Macho B was euthanized. He did, on a personal basis to see how he was doing. McCain summed it up as: “After the jaguar was euthanized, Thompson offered him a lot of support. They would get drunk and talk much about the matter.” After the USFWS criminal investigation and the AZGFD internal investigation began on 4-1-09, AZGFD directed their employees not to talk to each other or anyone else about Macho B or the investigation. Thompson said he spoke to McCain after learning in the paper that McCain had received a hunting/poaching violation in Montana years prior for hunting on a friend’s license. McCain had never told him about it though Thompson had vouched for him to get the sub-contractor job on the snaring project and helped him with the contractor  application to get a job to be an AZGFD trapper (contract cancelled when all captures were put on hold). According to McCain, “Thompson kept him informed about AZGFD issues pertaining to the jaguar and the interviews conducted by the USFWS SAs.”

Thompson put blame on USFWS Jaguar Lead, Erin Fernandez for not stopping the snaring project since she received the email notifications from McCain about Macho B’s latest detections and was aware of the snaring project. Thompson stated: “As far as that permit, as soon as she was notified or somebody within the Fish and Wildlife Service that there’s a jaguar on this camera, someone should have been asking questions on that. ‘Hey, are you guys still snaring?'”

After Macho B’s death and the criminal investigation began, Thompson offered McCain a lot of support in the way of employment. It was through Thompson that McCain was able to donate Macho B’s collar to a jaguar release project in the Yucatan in which he, Thompson, and Ole Alcumbrac (AZGFD contract vet at Macho B’s recapture) participated. Thorry Smith was also invited but he declined. Thompson also hooked McCain up with work in northern Mexico setting up cameras to monitor for jaguar presence and, apparently, as a hunting guide in the same area.

At Thompson’s last interview, a surprise visit by the USFWS SAs, Thompson said “he was through talking with McCain after learning that he and Smith conspired to cover up the use of jaguar scat during the snaring of  the jaguar (this had just been made public, as well as, Smith’s firing from AZGFD).” But according to Smith, when he and McCain met to “make up a story that no jaguar scat was used…” McCain told Smith he had told Thompson about the use of jaguar scat and Thompson recommended McCain “deny it.”

No one wanted the jaguar caught and definitely not, you know, killed. I think people took steps to plan on this thing. Ron Thompson

I wonder if he includes himself in that analysis?

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