A Jaguar in the Backyard – Next City

A Jaguar in the Backyard

The American jaguar, Panthera onca, has been in science and nature journals much lately. Over the last few years, young males have roamed from Sonora, Mexico, into the U.S.—remote places like southern Arizona’s Tumacacori Highlands and the Peloncillo Mountains straddling Old and New Mexico. We know they’ve wandered this far north once again because they have been captured on film, and on occasion treed on the brambly edges of a sawtooth ranch.

Jaguar photographed in southern Arizona.
Jaguar photographed via remote camera in southern Arizona. Photo by Emil McCain, courtesy Northern Jaguar Project.

For those who focus on issues of the metropolis, it may be easy to dismiss these rare visits as interesting but, in the end, of little relevancy. After all, the hemisphere’s largest and most powerful cat doesn’t just waltz into the city, right?

Right. Except here’s the overlap: Jaguars share the same paths, scientists like Sky Island Alliance biologist Sergio Avila believe, as drug smugglers and illegal immigrants. And as construction on the border fence continues-with a goal of 700 fortified miles by the end of 2008-people and jaguars, and a host of other animals native to the Sonoran desert, are channeled into a wild trail that leads, ultimately, into cities like Nogales and Tucson.

Tumacacori Highlands.
The rugged landscape of Tumacacori Highlands, looking south into Mexico. Photo by Simmons Buntin.

It’s not that the animals will be more likely to show up in cities. It’s just the opposite: they’re less likely to show up anywhere. Jaguars and native bees and a host of other indigenous wildlife are likely to disappear, thanks to the fence. That’s important for the multicultural cities of the desert Southwest because the animals continue to play a meaningful role, mythical and environmental. For people whose heritage includes a strong connection to landscape, who now find themselves in an urban environment, knowing jaguars exist at the darker edges of the wide metropolis means knowing their connection to the land remains intact.