The report is out, and the results are exactly what were to be expected.

The University of Arizona, in a deft shell game, took $771,000 originally earmarked by Congress for Homeland Security and spent it on a three-year jaguar “study” that told us what we already knew.

In the abstract from the report, we are informed: “Knowledge gained from monitoring jaguars is helpful for wildlife managers who are responsible for conserving this species.” The problem with this theory is that jaguars, as a viable breeding population, do not exist in Arizona or anywhere in the United States, and there are no wildlife managers working here who have anything to do with conserving “the species.”

Biologists from Mexico to Argentina may well be doing this because that is where real jaguar habitat is to be found.

The U of A reports the use of hundreds of trail cameras and a jaguar scat-detecting dog revealed one jaguar and three ocelots in southern Arizona during the three-year project. The jaguar and at least one ocelot were already confirmed individuals before the study.

All of these endangered cats were males that were wandering at the extreme northern fringe of their territory, a type of action that has been well documented for decades. None of them is important to the conservation of its species.

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Environmental groups often enjoy anthropomorphizing wildlife, especially a poster child like a jaguar, and manipulated the public into naming the beast. “El Jefé” is indeed a striking visitor to our country, but similar feline peregrinations should never have been the basis of environmental lawsuits coercing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service into declaring jaguars, as a species, endangered within our country and designating “critical habitat” for them in Arizona and New Mexico.

Under the Endangered Species Act, this would eventually mean a reintroduction program that brought jaguars from where they want to be in order to dump them out where they don’t want to be. This collusion between litigious environmental groups and an acquiescing federal agency charged to base its actions on science, not emotional claptrap, has helped make the Endangered Species Act a subject of doubt and some derision.

The Mexican gray wolf reintroduction had already weakened both the integrity of the Endangered Species Act and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s standing in the biological community, with its wildly rogue attitudes that were the subjects of recent lawsuits by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The latter just won an injunction barring the feds from releasing any more wolves into New Mexico without permits from the state wildlife agency. Jaguar nonsense only adds to this slow degradation of the Endangered Species Act.

As an interesting sideline about the idea of jaguars being hauled into Arizona for release as required by the letter of federal law pertaining to endangered wildlife — I once wrote magazine articles about how to make and use dried gourd jaguar callers to detect the big cats and entice them in close. At one point, I offered a copy to Arizona Wildlife Views, the magazine put out by our state wildlife agency. Although national periodicals had already published the articles, the editor for the Arizona Game and Fish Department was appalled at the idea. She was terrified that if it was published and some reader made such a device and used it, he or she could be horribly mauled or killed, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department would surely be sued. It was the most amazing rejection notice I have gotten in the 36 years I have been writing about Southwest wildlife.

According to news reports, the University of Arizona actually drummed up extra funds to add to the purloined taxpayer dollars from Homeland Security to bring the total bill for the study to $1 million. Most of that, of course, didn’t go to cameras or dog food but to salaries. The people who got paid were quick to compliment themselves in interviews while, at the same time, padding their final jaguar report with academic banalities, graphs, maps and the mention of squirrels, skunks, lizards and other nonessential trivia. Read it yourself and see if it was worth all that money.

Dexter K. Oliver is a freelance writer and wildlife consultant who has worked with endangered species of wildlife in the Southwest, Mexico and Costa Rica. He has worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, the wildlife division of the Forest Service, the wildlife division of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the federal Wildlife Services, the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the University of Arizona and other wildlife institutions.

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