Scientists Identify 20 Million Acre Habitat Area for Jaguars in Arizona, New Mexico

April 15, 2021
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A team of scientists has identified a wide swath of habitat in Arizona and New Mexico — 20 million acres, or about 32,000 square miles — that could eventually support more than 150 jaguars.

In a study published in Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation, the team says that the central mountains of the two states, which they call the Central Arizona/New Mexico Recovery Area or CANRA, offers new opportunities for the United States to contribute to recovery of the species.

Authors of the study include scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Wildlands Network, Pace University, U.S. Geological Survey, Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro, Bird’s Eye View, IUCN and Bordercats Working Group.

The multidisciplinary group of scientists compared 12 habitat models for jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico and found an area of habitat the size of South Carolina, roughly 100 miles from the southern border with Mexico. This area was not considered in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s jaguar recovery plan, released in 2019, but the Service left open the possibility of revising the recovery plan boundaries as new information, such as this study, became available.

“There is a lot more potential jaguar habitat in the United States than was previously realized,” said Eric W. Sanderson, WCS senior conservation ecologist. “These findings open a new opportunity for jaguar conservation in North America that could help address threats from habitat loss, climate change and border infrastructure.”

Jaguars are now considered an endangered species across their range (including the United States), and state-level protections exist in Arizona and New Mexico. Over the past two decades, seven male jaguars have been photographed in the mountains south of Interstate 10.

“It should come as no surprise that the forested Mogollon Plateau, which teems with deer, elk and javelina, now has scientific recognition as good jaguar habitat,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This region was the last stand for breeding jaguars after their elimination elsewhere in the U.S., and these beautiful cats could thrive here again.”

Jaguars are often associated with tropical habitats such as the Amazon and Central America, but historically they were found as far north as the Grand Canyon. The last jaguar north of the I-10 freeway was killed by a U.S. government hunter in 1964.

“This fresh look at jaguar habitat in the U.S. identifies a much larger area that could support many more of these big cats,” said Bryan Bird, director for Southwest programs at Defenders of Wildlife. “This expanded area of the Southwest is 27 times larger than the current designated critical habitat. We hope these findings will inspire renewed cooperation and result in more resident jaguars in the U.S.”

“Jaguar recovery in the northern extreme of its range is of interest to both the U.S. and Mexico, and having this analysis — which clears previous misconceptions about available habitat — is indispensable to make informed decisions for international efforts,” said Juan Carlos Bravo, Wildlands Network’s Mexico and Borderlands program director.

Recent and historical jaguar observations in the United States and northern Mexico can be found at

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