The Debate Over Reintroducing Jaguars to North America


1 year ago



Steven Rinella

15 appearances

Steven Rinella is an outdoorsman, conservationist, writer, and host of "MeatEater." Watch season 11 now at


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Have you followed the the Jaguar debate that's going on right now? No. Um, it's a great one man. So... Defining... it's one of it... Jeg, okay, we're gonna back up. I'm gonna tell you an imp... like I'm gonna tell you something that's like objectively true. Okay. Okay. It's objectively true that we had... a population of Jaguars in the United States of America. Up until the 1800s. Right? It's just... they just were. What's debated is... was it... how stable was it? How widespread was it? Some people would point to... well like basically limited to southern Arizona. Some people would look and be... well West Texas, New Mexico. Southern Arizona. What about members of the Coronado Expedition drawing a distinction between lions and jaguars all the way up like toward the Platte River. Okay. Like why would they say both? You know what I mean? Like what are they confusing? Where's the Platte River? Oh, so in the... more in the southern plains, the southern Great Plains of the United States flowing across Kansas. Okay. Oh wow. Where you have instances of people mentioning things that you sort of like looking at you like man they got... if they weren't talking about jaguar what the hell are they talking about? How do they describe it? Leopards. Okay. And a lot of times someone will say there'll be a reference to a large cat and you can't rule out well maybe in the historic record they're probably talking about mountain lions. But what do you do in a case where you have a historic record and someone is in some oddball place southern Colorado and they're talking about they have lions and leopards. Oh wow. And lions and leopards. So it's like I guess we're talking... I mean they gotta be... they have to be referring to jaguars. Right. Much more widely dispersed. So as people get into talking about jaguar recovery of which I'm a... I'm a proponent with an asterisk. When people get talking about jaguar recovery you have to define what that looks like. And there are some who would say jaguar recovery in North America as a collaborative effort between us, Mexico, Belize, whoever else has rolled into this jaguar recovery plan. Jaguar recovery in North America would mean recovering them across core habitat. Okay that's the term you hear all the time like core habitat. So then you got to argue over what is the line? What's core habitat for jaguars? And some people will argue and many of them have motivation. Some of them are honest. Some of them have other kind of you know political motivation to say that core habitat is not Arizona. That was always fringe. Stray males one or two here and there, long periods of absence. It wasn't core habitat. Other people would argue that Arizona was absolutely core habitat. And if we're going to restore jaguars and core habitat we're going to be restoring jaguars in some portion of the lower 48. Meaning eventually and recovery would look a couple ways. One is like protections and you would watch how jaguars are able to flow back and forth across the border. A big question around jaguar recovery is the border wall. Okay how much would how much would a border wall impact large mammal movements? So that's an aspect. If we don't allow recovery in that way or we make recovery in that way difficult do we truck jaguars up and turn them loose in Arizona, New Mexico, West Texas? Really? You're going to turn them loose? Right. Well then I love it dude. I love them and I honestly don't think um you know they they like live in such low population abundances. They have such huge home ranges. I don't think it would ever be that there was like a jaguar problem. There's no jaguar problem. Yeah I don't think you're going to have people you know the case where where you know you might recover wolves in some area and lose two-thirds of the elk like seemingly overnight. I just I can't picture that that's I think you'd lose a lot of lions. You'd lose a lot of mountain lions probably. But do you think they'd be forced out or do the predation? I think that probably a common I think a combination of both like them killing them and then just range reduction because of this big cat. But dude I like I'm a conflict averse enough where I don't want it's like trucking them in to me is way in the future. And man it would be a political battle and you'd make a spotted owl out of the jaguar. You'd have some level of people that just came to hate them sons of bitches because they were a a symbol of federal overreach. But them just coming across the border I think is a great way. It's a great thing to root for. Well I love them. That's where they think El Jefe is coming through. Yeah. That's one of the reasons why they call him El Jefe. He manages to make his way through the wall. Yeah and there's but it's you know for a jaguar to come hanging out in the U.S. it's it's you know it's a dicey life. I don't think he knows. No no of course he doesn't know but you wind up there's not like a great in recent decades there's not a great likelihood of finding of establishing a habitat and having a female to breed with.