(WILD ANIMAL) ARIZONA — Mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes are all commonplace in the Arizona desert…but jaguars? This year Arizona has had a number of ocelot (also known as the dwarf leopard) and jaguar sightings in the state’s southern regions. The wild felines are suspected to have come up through Mexico from South America. Read on for more on one particular jaguar sighting that occurred during a little girls very first mountain lion hunt. — Global Animal
New York Times, Marc Lacey
The Serengeti is associated with safaris. The Maasai Mara, too. But southern Arizona?
A series of recent sightings of rare wild cats in the southern part of the state has prompted considerable excitement among wildlife experts and camera-toting naturalists alike. Twice this year, the Arizona Game and Fish Department has announced sightings in the southeast of endangered ocelots, small spotted cats with jaguar-like markings.
A third ocelot sighting reported on Friday by a homeowner who snapped some blurry photos of an odd-looking cat was probably a serval, an African cat popular in the pet trade, state officials said Saturday. The animal had long ears, long legs and appeared to have only solid spots instead of the solid spots and haloed spots on an ocelot.
On Nov. 19, it was a rare jaguar that was seen in the same part of the state — the first confirmed appearance of that elusive and endangered cat in Arizona since 2009. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the only one found in the wild in the Western Hemisphere.
Donnie Fenn, a professional guide based in Benson, Ariz., who specializes in mountain lion hunts — which are fairly common in Arizona — was taking his 10-year-old daughter out on her first lion hunt that morning when his pack of eight hounds took off in a frenzy. Before he knew it, he said, the dogs had a creature cornered in a tree, which he saw from afar with a telephoto lens was not the mountain lion he was looking for but instead an endangered jaguar.
“I was scared,” Mr. Fenn said in a telephone interview on Friday. “I didn’t know if that thing was going to turn on me. I could feel its power. It was twice the size of a big mountain lion. It was definitely the experience of a lifetime.”
Mr. Feen said that his dogs were scratched pretty badly by the cornered jaguar, who probably had roamed north from Mexico.
In June, a helicopter pilot working along the border for the federal Department of Homeland Security reported seeing a jaguar in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson, officials said. Because the pilot had previously seen mountain lions, which are sometimes confused by the non-experts with jaguars, and was able to hover about 100 feet above the spotted cat and clearly describe it, wildlife experts took the report seriously. But biologists who went to the scene about a week after the spotting could not find tracks, hair or droppings from the animal, making it an unconfirmed sighting.
Mr. Fenn, 32, made sure to confirm his run-in with the jaguar, which took place in an undisclosed mountain range in Cochise County. He crept up close after the jaguar was chased up a mesquite tree and took photos and a video of the animal. He also notified state wildlife officials, who were later able to find 15 hair samples left behind by the animal and a tree trunk that showed signs of being climbed by a large clawed animal. Experts believe Mr. Fenn saw an adult male jaguar that weighed about 200 pounds.
“What’s so appealing to the general public is that jaguars are so exotic,” said Mark Hart, a spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “They are jungle cats from Central and South America, and the fact that they might be in our state really gets people’s attention. It’s a romantic notion.”
Mr. Fenn, whose Chasin’ Tail Guide Service offers five-day mountain lion hunts for $3,500, said his Web site has been barraged with hits since the jaguar sighting. And his daughter Alyson, initially disappointed that she did not get her first mountain lion kill that day, now realizes that seeing a jaguar was memorable, too.
“It was quite an experience, even if she didn’t get to kill anything,” Mr. Fenn said.