Whistling for the Jaguar

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

The Investigation: Michelle Crabb

Michelle Crabb was a tech with AZGFD (I believe she is still employed at AZGFD). Before participating in Macho B’s capture she had observed/assisted with one mountain lion capture. She had been through the mandatory AZGFD trapping and handling course (a basic weekend course) but was learning on the job, through the lion and bear snaring project, how to trap, anesthetize, handle, and process bears and lions.

February 5, 2009

Crabb met McCain and Smith at Bear Valley to check the AZGFD snares that were re-activated the day before. At Crabb’s approximation McCain found Macho B’s tracks about 200 meters away from the nearest snare. Below is a picture taken by Crabb with McCain in the foreground pointing out Macho B’s tracks to Smith. This picture was provided in my FOIA request.

The tracks appeared old, 2-3 weeks, and Crabb assumed after talking with McCain about Macho B’s movement history, that Macho B wouldn’t return for some time. Crabb stated:

You, know, I never thought in a million years we would catch it. Even after we saw the tracks I figured, oh it’s gone… we’ve lessened our chances now.

Although the day before McCain and Smith had retrieved a picture taken three weeks prior of Macho B, just two miles away from the snare line, supposedly they didn’t tell Crabb about the photo. In fact, according to Crabb, she wasn’t aware of any photo detections of Macho B from the previous year until after Macho B was snared and collared. She also wasn’t made aware of the use of jaguar scat and apparently didn’t find out about it until reading it in the paper.

After seeing Macho B’s tracks Smith and Crabb added two new snares to the area, one in the wash near Macho B’s tracks. Supposedly this was done because snares were being tampered with by people and small animals and they wanted to offset that. Crabb also talked about seeing tracks of bears and lions in the wash. Below is a map Crabb provided the USFWS SAs which was provided in my FOIA request. The snare trap between the starred capture site and the indicated location of Macho B’s tracks was the new snare that Crabb and Smith set. If you look over to the right of the map can you see where Crabb indicated bear tracks. If they were trying to snare a lion or bear why was the new snare placed closest to Macho B’s tracks and not the bear’s? (click on the first photo at the top of this post to view all photos in a slideshow format that produces a larger image)

Apparently there was no talk this day about concern for trapping Macho B, his age, or alerting their supervisors to Macho B’s presence on the snare line. Neither Crabb, Smith, or McCain alerted their immediate boss, Kirby Bristow to Macho B’s presence even though he had supposedly told them this “was not a jaguar project.” And there was also no concern from them or anyone else in AZGFD that became aware of Macho B’s presence on the snare line that Smith would be the only one with cat handling experience (by his estimation, less than a dozen animals and this includes bears) if Macho B was trapped. From the beginning of the project people spoke about the chances of catching a jaguar during the snaring project but I have found no evidence that anyone was concerned that the people whom could or would be handling Macho B were experienced trappers and handlers that could monitor Macho B’s health given that he was approximately 15-16 years old. The closest comment I could find that addresses this comes from AZGFD Non-Game biologist, VanPelt to AZGFD lion and bear biologist Thompson when he says: “Hopefully we have someone skilled with handling cats.” This comment is in response to finding out from Thompson there was jaguar sign “all over down south” and “an animal could be caught as early as that weekend.”  AZGFD treated Macho B like he was a common animal of the area, not the only known individual of his species to exist in the U.S. This is the epitome of negligence and dereliction of AZGFD’s duty to protect this endangered species that they asked to be responsible for.

Jag Prep

Crabb said, ” The snares for the lion/bear project were constructed with short leads (short cables) due to possibility of catching a jaguar.”

She also stated, “There were conversations concerning a jaguar capture during the snaring efforts – the required paperwork and the need for an Environmental Assessment Checklist in an effort to make sure that we covered our bases.” Crabb was unsure if an EA was done. It wasn’t.

Crabb was aware “that AZGFD had possessed a permit for incidental take and was under the understanding that they needed an incidental jaguar take permit for any snare work near the border.” She continued, “though I don’t know from whom or when I learned this.”

Crabb was aware that McCain and Smith decided a dart rifle would be better for a jaguar capture and that is why Smith left to retrieve one from northern AZ on February 6th.

Crabb was aware of the jaguar collar being carried around in the field by McCain and Smith and spoke of prepping the collar for a jaguar capture: “Like on the collar we had taken the VHF off previously, because there was concern of people trying to track them on VHF… we’re concerned that people would hear it in the news and think that that would be a neat trophy. Poaching potential and stuff…”

Capture: February 18, 2009

In some ways, we all wish we didn’t catch him, cause (sic) obviously then he wouldn’t have died.  Michelle Crabb

Above is a pic of Crabb with Macho B at his initial capture. The pic was taken by Smith and is available on the AZGFD website.

According to Crabb’s recounting of events: She and Smith discovered large cat tracks in the wash before arriving at the first snare (the new snare set by Smith & Crabb on Feb. 5). They assumed the tracks were jaguar based on their large size. At the first snare they discovered that the snare and spring mechanism had been pulled out and placed beside the trail. The jaguar tracks went right through the snare. They thought they missed the jaguar until they approached the second snare and saw a jaguar had been captured. Smith then prepared the dose of Telazol to immobilize Macho B. According to Crabb, Smith was carrying Telazol specifically for use in the event of a jaguar capture although it was also used on bears. Smith was also carrying the Jaguar Handling Protocol and a book of drug dosages for different animals. Crabb said it seemed like Smith wanted to use a different drug on Macho B, a reversible drug, but the jaguar protocol recommended Telazol.

Macho B was sedate in the snare until darted which caused some movement from him and a growl. After waiting ten minutes for the Telazol to take effect they approached Macho B, covered his eyes, removed him from the snare and hobbled him. They took his temperature and seeing it was four degrees below normal, moved him into the sun to warm him. The collar and ear tags were placed on Macho B; antiseptic was used to treat several scrapes and a cut on his leg; eye drops were applied; weight, measurements and photos were taken.

Macho B weighed between 115-118 pounds but Smith had prepared a dose of Telazol for a 150 pound animal, his estimation of Macho B’s weight. But there was not much concern about the weight discrepancy because not all the drug had been injected into Macho B (a small amount was left in vial) and Telazol has a wide safety range. Biological samples were then collected from Macho B: two tubes of blood, hair, a fecal sample, and cheek swabs. They noticed a couple of Macho B’s teeth were broken but were unsure if the damage was the result of the capture. Blood was present in his mouth because of a cut. They looked for teeth or pieces of around the capture site but found none (the USFWS SAs would find the missing portion of Macho B’s canine, broken to the root, confirming the injury was capture related). Crabb said Macho B appeared to be in good condition though his snared foot was swollen. After a 45 minute handling period the hobbles were removed from Macho B. Crabb then left to de-activate the remaining snares. She returned and helped Smith monitor Macho B until he recovered from the Telazol which took approximately six hours. During the processing of Macho B, Crabb noticed the “Pinocchio” rosette on his right side. She had remembered hearing about this distinctive rosette but did not realize “Pinocchio” was an identifying marker for Macho B. In summation Crabb stated: “He didn’t seem like damaged, and he’d worn off a bunch of his claws on the tree that he was caught on. But he seemed healthy and well when we let him go.”

After the capture, and when they returned to an area with cell phone service Crabb left a voice message for McCain about the capture. She spoke to him the next day and described his reaction as “excited, surprised, and all jacked up.” McCain confirmed to her that the “Pinocchio” rosette meant the animal was Macho B.

Inexperience

In Crabb and Smith’s statements regarding the capture they never talk about cleaning Macho B’s dart wound.  Smith removed the dart from Macho B so they knew where the puncture from the needle was located. In the jaguar protocol Smith was carrying around it simply states to “treat the dart wound site.” But in the capture protocol for lions, a document Smith and Crabb should have been intimately versed in as that was their job, it states: “Remove dart and clean debris from wound with tweezers, water, and gauze before applying iodine and spraying with antibacterial spray. Treat any other cuts and injuries the same.” The lion protocol also says (the bold type is in the actual document): Lay lion on its side opposite the dart wound.” For some reason the lion protocol is more extensive than the jaguar protocol concerning standard medical attention to a puncture wound from a dart. When the dart enters the animal’s body it is pushing any dirt, minute debris, bacteria, body fluids, etc. present on the animal’s fur inside that animal’s body. That captured animal, no matter what the species, needs some protection from that dart wound getting infected. That is why, in the lion protocol, the animal is laid on the opposite side of the wound; to clean the dart wound and keep it clean during the handling process. But Crabb talked about “flipping the kitty;” rolling Macho B onto both his sides when they laid him out in the sun to warm him up. When he was on his darted side, the wound was not always protected from the dirt. Below is a pic of Macho B lying, unprotected, on his darted side. The pic is from the AZGFD website.

The subcutaneous emphysema that was found in Macho B’s rear, left leg at his necropsy was not present at the initial capture. The emphysema rendered his back leg almost useless, severely limiting his mobility. When it was cultured at his necropsy three organisms were found: one that is present in dirt, one present in the intestinal tract, and one found in the gut (see post “Subcutaneous Emphysema” for more). I’m not medically learned, but I would hypothesize that the emphysema was a result of the dart wound not being cleaned and maybe it was exacerbated if Macho B’s immune system was compromised if he truly was suffering from kidney disease, not to mention his body possibly trying to fight an infection that could have been occurring since his canine was broken down to the root, exposing the root canal. And then, of course, the actual stress of the capture would have weakened his immune system, as well as, his age which in human years was 76-80 years old.

Cleaning a dart wound seems like elementary medical hygiene. The fact that it wasn’t done could have resulted in even more pain and agony for Macho B and could have been a contributing factor to his rapid health decline which ultimately resulted in his being killed through euthanasia.

In Addition, Smith had attempted to draw blood from Macho B but having never done so on a cat before failed to get much of a sample. Neither Smith or Crabb properly stored the blood samples and when they were called for on the day of Macho B’s recapture to help determine his health at the time of his initial capture, the lab determined the blood samples were not suitable for a health assessment. As a result, there could never be a determination if Macho B was already in failing health when he was initially captured. Smith and Crabb also stored the fecal sample they got from Macho B in a rubber glove and threw it in the ice chest with the blood vials, and cheek samples. According to Melanie Culver, a geneticist that was a cooperator on this study and is now involved in the University of Arizona jaguar study: “water had gotten into the Ziploc bag and contaminated the scat sample.” Culver also stated that felid scat has more DNA than their hair follicles. So biological samples collected from the only known jaguar to exist in the U.S. were treated rather poorly considering their scientific value and, as it turned out, health value.

Like Ron Thompson of AZGFD stated to the USFWS SAs: “I would say that biologists have killed more jaguars than other causes.”

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