Whistling for the Jaguar

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

Archive for the tag “Environment”

New Blog

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAI have started a new blog about the border. I got tired of fear and lies being used as the reasons to continue building the U.S. border wall. If you have a story to share about your own experiences and/or observations along the border please contact me at: whistlingforthejaguar@yahoo.com

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Five Years

Because of Macho B we have the knowledge of what jaguar “conservation” truly means in Arizona and thus, the U.S.   Because of him,

CDY_0004

We can protect him,

Jaguar 2012-10-25

It is past time to get AZGFD out of endangered carnivore “conservation.” It is time to shatter the incestuous world of wildlife conservation in Arizona. It is way past time to hold AZGFD and USFWS accountable for all they have not done to protect jaguars and other species (mainly carnivores) and all they did to contribute to Macho B’s snaring and death. If you have an idea on how to accomplish these goals please contact me (whistlingforthejaguar@yahoo.com) or please contact whomever to get the ball rolling. If you have information on how these agencies failed to protect any species and/or may have been complicit in their injury or death please speak out; either here or somewhere. It is time to act. Will you join me?

Open letter to Congressman Grijalva

January 16, 2013

Dear Congressman Grijalva,

I have contacted your Tucson and Washington DC offices on numerous occasions. I have left messages and talked with people on your staff that assured me someone would respond to my questions. So far, there has been silence from your office.

Last month you were quoted in an Arizona Republic series that highlighted the government corruption and cover-up that occurred in the jaguar, Macho B’s investigation:

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., who originally requested the criminal investigation, said Monday that his previous attempts to get answers were stymied but that he is determined to learn more about prosecutorial decisions and the continuing role of key officials in federal jaguar studies.

“It’s hard to describe,” Grijalva said. “Not only the tragedy involved, but the attempt to manipulate and cover up.”

Is the above quote accurate and are you truly going to learn why Dennis Burke decided not to prosecute AZGFD and USFWS officials in this case and why those same officials are still pocketing a government or otherwise tax-funded salary and why they continue to be involved in jaguar research?

In 2009 I came forward as the whistleblower in the Macho B case. The information I provided Tony Davis of the AZ Daily Star was passed on to you and it was you whom took responsibility for the Macho B investigation by requesting that USFWS be the investigative lead on the case. As it turns out, USFWS did a poor job investigating and Dennis Burke did an even worse job on deciding whom would or wouldn’t be prosecuted.

Will you please honor and complete your responsibility to the Macho B investigation?

As I write this I guarantee that AZGFD are making sure their jaguar capture protocols are current and their federal permits are valid in preparation for capturing and collaring the jaguar that has been documented recently by the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine site. In fact, a year after Macho B was snared and killed, USFWS “amended” AZGFD’s permit to specifically include, and thus allow, for the capture and collaring of a jaguar in Arizona! Unfortunately for the jaguar, the same people involved in Macho B’s illegal snaring and death will be apart of this capture through their AZGFD, USFWS, and University of AZ jaguar study affiliations.

Will you allow this jaguar, or any other documented in the U.S., to be the next victim(s) of the governmental agencies that captured, collared, and killed the last jaguar to be documented in this country? I beg of you that you don’t.

Thank you for your time. I hope to hear from you in the near future. Your offices have my contact information.

Sincerely,

Janay Brun

Permits

Who’s on first?

As I researched permits and the permitting process while preparing for my defense in the Macho B case I had a constant headache. Very few people in AZGFD and USFWS grasped what permits were needed to incidentally or intentionally capture a jaguar and the process and requirements needed in order to fulfill and honor the actual permits. As one USFWS official stated, “Nobody really has a clear understanding of how this permitting works, quite frankly.” He went on to say, “I don’t know that there’s anybody else in the nation that does permitting the way Game and Fish’s (AZ) permitting process has morphed into.”

The Permits

There are two permits repeatedly referred to in regard to Macho B’s capture. The first is the Section 10 permit [10 (a) 1 (A) ]. According to a USFWS official, “Section 10 permits are “our” authorization for incidental takes of species to private entities. The state is included because they are a non-federal entity.” Even though “jaguar” had previously been listed on AZGFD’s Section 10 permit it wasn’t on the version that was applicable in 2009. So AZGFD repeatedly referred to the next permit that was often mentioned, the Section 6 Agreement, as their authority to “incidentally” capture a jaguar. Again, according to a USFWS official: “The USFWS had a Section 6 agreement, under the Endangered Species Act, with the State of Arizona Fish and Game Department which covers the incidental take of species for actions done under that agreement. The states use that agreement to get their Federal Aid money from the USFWS.” Another USFWS official categorized the Section 6 this way: “The Section 6 agreement provides no authority for the take of an endangered species. That agreement talks about cooperative agreements, MOUs, MOAs and basically, funding. It is how to move money from the “feds” to the states. It’s how the states and the USFWS are going to cooperate on recovery plans. This is how we’re going to play nice.”

AZGFD violated their Section 6 agreement by not consulting with the USFWS prior to placing snares in Macho B’s habitat. Assuming Federal Aid is now aware of AZGFD’s violation they have the option to pull all funding for this project.

Determinations

According to a USFWS official that issued Section 10 permits for research and recovery in the Southwest Region: “If AZGFD was doing mountain lion research and did not know that a jaguar was in the area, they would be covered by their permit. If AZGFD knew that a jaguar was in the area of their mountain lion research [which they did], then AZGFD was not covered by any federally issued permits.” One of the USFWS SAs questioning this official gave the following scenario: “Say the same guy that was downloading the pictures of the jaguars is the same guy setting the snares for another study [referring to McCain]. He’s actually working both studies. Would this fit under the current permit(s)?” The official answered, “No.” This official also said that Smith and Crabb whom actually tranquilized, handled, and collared Macho B were also not covered under any permits. This is because neither AZGFD nor the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project (BJDP) amended their Section 10 permits with the USFWS to include activities and personnel from both projects. AZGFD and BJDP were cooperators on the AZGFD lion and bear snaring project not just because McCain was pulling double duty by working on both projects but because they were utilizing the same study area (an AZGFD snare within feet of a BJDP camera) and AZGFD was utilizing BJDP photo data to determine where the AZGFD snares would be set to meet their project’s goals of capturing and radio collaring lions and bears [and, apparently Macho B]. In addition, not a one of them was listed on BJDP’s or AZGFD’s permits.

Another official with USFWS whom was knowledgeable about permits stated: “If the jaguar capture was purposeful then AZGF should have assembled a risk assessment team [as determined in the jaguar conservation framework that discusses jaguar capture protocols] which would have included a representative from USFWS… if you do not follow the conditions of the permit then the permit is invalid. Now, if the capture of the jaguar was incidental then because of an ongoing AZGF mountain lion/bear study, was it funded or approved by any Federal involvement. If funded by USFWS, Federal Aid then under Section 7 a biological opinion should have been completed by AZGF with consultation with USFWS.”

There was no biological opinion, aka, environmental assessment done by AZGFD nor did they engage in a Section 7 consultation with the USFWS. Under the AZGFD-USFWS Comprehensive Management Systems agreement it states: “The responsibility for reviewing proposed jobs for possible impacts to federal listed endangered and threatened species is assigned to the Department’s (AZGFD) Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Branch. This step is part of our EA (Environmental Assessment) checklist. If any listed species may be affected by any activity the Department undertakes the Department will ensure compliance with Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.”

The EA and Section 7 should have occurred BEFORE the lion/bear project set and activated their first snare.

AZGFD never initiated an EA or Section 7 consultation for the lion/bear snaring project despite receiving federal funds through Federal Aid. These checklists are not optional but mandated by policy and law. AZGFD cannot claim ignorance of these checklists and consultations as the procedures to address any impact to a threatened or endangered species during the course of any AZGFD activity are outlined and defined in their own documents.

Bottom line 

AZGFD did not have a permit to intentionally or inadvertently capture a jaguar because they violated the federal law known as the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by not initiating any consultation/review/checklist for the lion/bear project that was occurring in known jaguar habitat and when it was known Macho B was present. AZGFD violated every permit they had, nullifying all of them, and thus, the AZGFD lion/bear project was an illegal study and Macho B’s capture was in violation of the ESA.

The effectiveness of jaguar scat

Contrary to what McCain told me, the jaguar scat he obtained from the Phoenix Zoo and had directed me to place at BJDP cameras and near the AZGFD snare that trapped Macho B was not from a female jaguar in estrus. According to Stuart Wells of the Phoenix Zoo, whom supplied the scat to McCain, the scat was from both the female and male jaguars housed at the zoo and the female was not in heat during the scat collection. It wasn’t until days after McCain received the scat that Wells thought the female had just come into heat because the male jaguar had begun “mewling” at her.

During the criminal investigation, the USFWS Special Agents tasked the USFWS “Jaguar Lead,” Erin Fernandez to investigate the effectiveness of jaguar scat as a scent lure and how that related to the “take” of Macho B. Fernandez reviewed eight studies that used attractants and two of those concluded that the scent lures had no long range effect but were effective to hold the animal in front of a camera long enough to obtain a better photo. Fernandez told the USFWS SAs that, “although jaguars have well developed olfactory organs, there was little published information on the olfactory ability of jaguars.” Fernandez stated, “she did not think that scat would have a long distance effect.”

With regards to using jaguar scat as a scent lure and if that met the criteria for a “take” violation of the Endangered Species Act Fernandez was uncertain. She explained there was too little known about Macho B and when the scat was used in relation to his detections in southern Arizona. If a case for a “take” violation could be made Fernandez suggested the use of jaguar scat as a scent lure could meet the definition of “harass” under the “take” violation of the Endangered Species Act.

Ron Thompson of AZGFD and McCain’s perceived boss on the snaring project also told the USFWS SAs that “there are no published studies on the effectiveness of scat for lions and jaguars.”

Thorry Smith, Part 3

The above picture is from the AZGFD website and is Thorry Smith posing with Macho B at his initial capture. Smith was involved in Macho B’s capture and recapture. To read more about his involvement please see this blog’s posts: Capture; Day 1: February 18, 2009; Day 10: Feb. 27; Day 11: Feb. 28; Day 12: March 1; Day 13: March 2.

There is not much to add to those posts except Smith told the USFWS SAs that he didn’t have much experience with the drug used to anesthetize Macho B, Telazol or older animals. But, the USFWS Special Agents ask Smith a question they should have asked every AZGFD and USFWS employee whom was aware Macho B was vulnerable to being snared: “And if you’re being so prepared, and you’re getting ready for this chance… wouldn’t it be the best thing to have a vet there?” And Smith replied: “I agree. That’s not my call. We can’t afford that, and this is the way Game and Fish works. We have no money.”

An additional point would be a reminder, that Smith checked the AZGFD snares until Feb. 11. He then de-activated them to return home. He came back to the snaring area on Feb. 15 and re-activated the snares. Macho B was caught on Feb.18.

Garrity Interviews

Smith was granted immunity, as all AZGFD employees were, when speaking with their employer during the course of their internal administrative investigation. Part of the Garrity Warning reads, “… any responses given during this administrative investigation cannot be used against you in a subsequent criminal investigation.”

Smith starts off by admitting to committing a felony: “Well, I lied to the feds about it (use of jaguar scat). Scared to death. You know, Emil (McCain) and I came up with, this is bad. The department is going to look so bad…” Smith then goes on to admit to conspiring with McCain to protect themselves: “We made a different story to protect the department, to protect Emil, to protect my association with Emil about, you know, not leaving jaguar scat but (inaudible) there was no scat at all placed anywhere…”

Smith acknowledges that: “I realized that he (McCain) had put – when I was with him, he had put scat at the upper two of the south two camera sites that were two and four (actually both are about two) miles away about from any of our snares, and being naive as I was, I thought that was okay. I didn’t question it.”

As for the first snare of the day that also had a camera within feet of it Smith claimed ignorance: “… I was working on the set. They were working on the camera. I turned around. There was a scat in the trail figuring it was one of the lion scats they just put in there to get…” Lion scat was never used on this day or ever by the BJDP at camera sites. Smith also claimed ignorance about scat being placed at the last camera site of the day in Penasco Canyon (where Macho B was snared) and at the actual snare site where Macho B was captured.

Smith apparently didn’t find out about jag scat being placed at the other two camera sites until March 31. This was the day McCain called him to make him aware of my allegations of jaguar scat at camera sites and the snare. Smith supposedly asked McCain: “You guys didn’t put any in the cameras within our snare loop, did you?” And McCain responded, “Yeah, we did.” But McCain denied scat was placed at the snare that became the capture site. Smith claimed McCain put jag scat at the other camera sites behind his back.

So on March 31, Smith and McCain meet and discuss what they’re going to do for hours and come up with a plan to lie about the scat and for McCain to go back to the area; “He went in and cleaned it up, made it look like our story.” Smith just admitted to conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

What doesn’t make sense to me is if Smith was truly ignorant of all the places where scat was placed why didn’t he tell McCain to fuck off and then get in touch with his supervisors at AZGFD about what McCain just admitted? Scat a few miles away from the snares was something the AZGFD PR people could work with and Smith’s supervisors could probably give him a pass on. Smith and McCain barely knew each other. Why did Smith choose McCain over his career and later his family as he sat lying to federal investigators, committing a felony with serious monetary fines and jail time attached to the crime?

So Smith never admits to AZGFD his full knowledge about the use of scat at all the camera sites and the snare. I think it’s because he still believed he would retain his job at AZGFD and admitting the full truth would guarantee him being sacked. He even makes a reference in his third Garrity interview (p.8) to a job position he foresees himself occupying in the future. By this time, Smith had retained a lawyer whom might be working on immunity for him with the feds so perhaps he feels legally “safe” and is focusing on keeping his job.

See blogroll for link to Smith’s Garrity transcripts; redacted, of course.

Use Immunity Interview

Smith was interviewed on March 18, 2010 with counsel present at the U.S. Attorneys Office. He admitted to lying to the USFWS Special Agents about the use of scat when cameras were checked and snares opened on Feb. 4, 2009. He continued to maintain that he only found out about the scat at all the camera sites from McCain after Macho B’s capture. Smith also admitted his and McCain’s plan to “clean up” the camera/snaring area of scat. Apparently McCain called him afterwards and said, “We’re good.” Smith never admits to his knowledge of scat being placed at the snare site where Macho B was captured.

With regard to a jaguar capture Smith said, “We (he & McCain) were both hopeful.” Smith thought scat had nothing to do with Macho B’s capture. He had stated the same to AZGFD pointing out that Macho B had come from the north, not passing any camera sites, and the first snare he came to (the one Smith built& activated on his own Feb.5) had no scat and would have captured Macho B if people hadn’t tampered with the snare.

Smith claimed that McCain had tried to contact AZGFD Endangered Species Coordinator, Terry Johnson to tell him that he had a [fabricated] camera log that indicated scat was not used at the camera sites.

In addition, Smith claimed that when he and McCain met on March 31, McCain told him he had informed AZGFD lion&bear biologist, Ron Thompson about the use of jaguar scat and Thompson recommended McCain “deny it.”

Smith said, “It was his and Emil’s word against Janay’s,”  in regards to the placement of jaguar scat at the snare site.

Smith was fired about a week after his “use immunity” interview. I wonder if he had been re-interviewed after losing his job with AZGFD he would have told the whole truth regarding his knowledge of scat placement on Feb.4?

The Investigation: Chasa O’Brien

Chasa O’Brien is a Research Branch Chief with AZGFD. She was the lead biologist for the AZGFD lion and bear snaring project which snared and collared Macho B.

1. The AZGFD lion and bear snaring project

According to O’Brien: The lion/bear project was initiated in 2006 because many problem bears were being removed (relocated and/or killed by AZGFD) from Sierra Vista, AZ that came from the Huachuca Mountains and there was concern from AZGFD Commissioner Hernbrode the population was in peril. Hair snares designed to remove hair from bears were employed and the project was managed by Todd Atwood. Before Atwood left the project plans were made to collar the bears to determine their population; later to determine their habitat connectivity between the Sky Islands of southeastern AZ and their cross border movements. A Wildlife Conservation Society contact was collaborating on the project with Atwood. The Wildlife Conservation Society remained with the project providing assistance and possibly telemetry collars.

In June 2008, Kirby Bristow, the new lead field biologist for the snaring project approached O’Brien, his boss, and asked, “Hey, on this project for SE AZ, what if we were to capture a jaguar?” O’Brien responded, “No capturing jaguars in SE AZ.” Bristow followed up with, “Well, if there was interest to capture a jaguar?” And O’Brien responded, “No, that would have to be a process that would go through the entire Department and probably would require Commission approval and stuff and that was not something that we would do.” Bristow also asked, “If we were to capture a jaguar, could we radio collar it?” And O’Brien answered: “No, no radio collaring any jaguars. We don’t have permission for that. We don’t want to capture a jaguar in the first place.” O’Brien’s boss was brought in on the conversation and he supported what O’Brien told Bristow. O’Brien didn’t hear anything further about jaguars until months later when Ron Thompson (AZGFD lion&bear biologist) brought it to her attention that a jaguar could be captured on the snaring project.

O’Brien stated she was unaware of where the snares had been set or where the animals were being captured. She also did not know the snares were set up with short leads or in any other manner to benefit a jaguar capture.

I’m not involved that deeply in the project where I’m informed when they’re opening snares, closing snares or otherwise and where those are located at.

O’Brien also said she was unaware of Macho B’s presence in the snaring area and had not been sent any of the photo and track detection information that was shared with others in her agency and USFWS.

2. Environmental Assessment

From The USFWS investigation write-up: An Environmental Assessment (EA) is a component of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) enacted in 1970, where federal agencies using federal funds determine if federal projects have any negative impacts to the environment or even endangered species.

The lion and bear project was federally funded. O’Brien began wondering if an EA was done for the project and if one was required after Thompson approached her and told her there was a possibility of capturing a jaguar during the course of the lion/bear project.

In an email sent to O’Brien on 12/24/08 from REDACTED it states: “He feels that we best do an EA to address the issue and cover the department in the event that one of those big spotted cats ends up in one of our snares.”

And in an email on 1/20/09 from REDACTED to O’Brien about an EA for a possible jaguar capture during the lion/bear snaring project: “…We are technically covered if we inadvertently acquire one, but not if we go after one. You might want to hear the story from REDACTED to decide if we are covered enough, because if we do acquire one it is likely certain parties will raise some noise. The other approach would be to work this issue to the top and prepare a briefing that Larry (AZGFD Director, Larry Voyles) can take to Regional F&W Service Director…”

An EA was never done and O’Brien stated it was her responsibility. She also said: “Guidance for EA process was lacking from Habitat Branch which oversees the process. She has to go to the Habitat Branch and inform them of the project to initiate an EA process. This puts a hold on all snaring projects in AZ because of possible impacts to other endangered wildlife.” O’Brien never went to the Habitat Branch to inform them of the lion/bear snaring project occurring in jaguar habitat.

3. Dr. Roberto Aguilar

On 2/6/09 Dr. Aguilar emailed O’Brien and attached emails he had exchanged with McCain and Smith about proper drugs and dosages to immobilize a jaguar. This same email was also sent to Bill Van Pelt (AZGFD) and Erin Fernandez (USFWS).

I wanted to give you a “heads up” on an email exchange regarding jaguars and anesthesia that I had with Thorry and Emil. They asked for a good, safe way to anesthetize a jaguar, should one be accidentally trapped as part of AZGFD black bear, mountain lion study… I don’t want you to be surprised if you hear about it from the field team. Just trying to be helpful.

When asked by the USFWS Special Agents (SAs) if she followed up on Aguilar’s email O’Brien responded: “No. I hadn’t taken his forwarding that as having anything to do with the request that Thorry and that whole email string. I had taken that to be a request to meet with regards to the open position (AZGFD job opening) and his desire to have that…”

4. Red Flags

In hindsight, there were “red flags” everywhere.

O’Brien said the first “red flag” occurred in December 2008 when Ron Thompson would occasionally tell her, “You know, you could incidentally capture a jaguar on this study.” Thompson’s comments initiated her questions about an EA being done for the snaring project. O’Brien also said she: “Hoped that if the jaguar presence was an immediate issue, Bristow would have come to her to raise concerns over capturing it (O’Brien is talking about Macho B’s presence on the trap line as detected by McCain, Smith and Crabb on 2/5/09. Supposedly, they never informed Bristow so he, in turn, could not inform O’Brien).” According to O’Brien, if she had been informed of Macho B’s presence near the snares she would have sought consultation with Endangered Species Coordinator, Terry Johnson and closed the snares until Director Voyles made a decision.

5. Capture

O’Brien had asked Bristow if there was intent to capture Macho B and, according to O’Brien, Bristow replied: “No. Anytime I’ve met with my field crews, I’ve specified that we are not capturing jaguars, that we are here to capture lions and bears.” O’Brien also asked of Bristow if any jaguar tracks had been seen because that had been raised and according to her, Bristow replied: “That, no they hadn’t seen any jaguar tracks. And then he indicated that there had potentially been a case where Thorry was out and had stepped on a jaguar track or what appeared was a larger cat track potentially that he wasn’t sure was a jaguar…” (On Feb.4 McCain, Smith & I walked over Macho B’s tracks, not noticing them because night had fallen. The next day, his tracks were found by McCain and he briefed Thorry Smith & Crabb about the tracks and what a jaguar capture was like)

O’Brien was not informed of Macho B’s capture until the day after it occurred. Bristow called her the morning after the capture. Smith had called Bristow the night of the capture after being told to do so by Ron Thompson. To be clear, the chain of command in this project did not include Thompson, but was, from top to bottom: O’Brien, Bristow, Smith (along with Crabb & McCain).

6. Conclusion

AZGFD has been the co-lead, along with New Mexico Game & Fish and in partnership with USFWS, in jaguar conservation for the U.S. since 1997. Macho B has been on all the agencies’ radars since 1996 when he was first documented in southeastern AZ.

USFWS SA: “Given the fact that you have endangered animals that live lives similarly to other non-protected animals, such as the wolf and the coyote, the jaguar and the mountain lion, do you foresee that there should be better information that’s relayed to the employees regarding how the laws affect what you do perhaps and, you know, just kind of outlining what happened and so forth?”

O’Brien: “Absolutely…”

O’Brien goes on to highlight a few changes that need to be made such as, direction needed to be implemented for an EA checklist and what projects trigger that process; training needed to be required for endangered species protocols and handling, including proper documents (handling protocols) being taken into the field; and a contact list needed to be implemented to communicate such a big event as capturing a jaguar to the proper people in the chain of command.

Why did it take Macho B’s capture and death to highlight the need for basic protocols and procedures in an agency that is responsible for all the wildlife of AZ, and the lives of AZ’s endangered species, including the rarest mammal to be found in the United States, the jaguar?

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?

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.

 

Just a reminder…

Macho B on January 17, about a month away from being snared.  This photo was captured by a BJDP remote game camera. It was sent to me by McCain on February 3 and first published in the 2008 BJDP Progress Report.

The above two photos are of Macho B when he was snared on February 18. He walked away from the capture using all four limbs and nothing was noted about his hind, left leg which would be described as feeling like “bubble wrap” twelve days later at his recapture. Both photos are from AZGFD’s website.
Macho B awaiting transport to the Phoenix Zoo after being recaptured on March 2. Visual observations of his movements noted he walked like “a drunkard,” dragged his hind legs, and had lost twenty percent of his body weight since his initial capture twelve days prior. He would be euthanized hours later at the Zoo. Photo from AZGFD website.
Macho B on a taxidermist’s table one week after being euthanized. This picture and the one below were provided in my FOIA request.
Macho B’s leg wound that was not present on the day of his initial capture. The cause of the wound was
never determined. This wound was cited as one of the reasons for euthanizing Macho B.
If Macho B’s 13 year presence in southern Arizona was indicative of the health of his environment, lands that provided this apex predator with food, water, shelter, room to roam and in all probability a mate, then Macho B’s presence on a taxidermist’s table 19 days after being snared is indicative of the sickness in U.S. jaguar conservation.

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