In today's print edition and elsewhere on Starnet, I have a story about a set of newly released photos of a male jaguar, roaming the Santa Rita Mountains - all shot since last September. They indicate an affinity in this endangered mammal for these mountains -- and some photos were shot close to the site of the proposed Rosemont Mine.
"It's absolutely significant. it shows the jaguar's persistence in the area," said Michael Robinson, a Silver City-based conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity and a longtime supporter for critical habitat protection for the animal. "It appears to show a territory that this animal has established."
Well, not so fast, counters David Brown, an adjunct professor of biology at Arizona State University who has written a book on southwestern jaguars. He calls the jaguar's presence in the Santa Ritas biologically insignificant: "It's a fun natural history phenomenon. Enjoy it. It's not going to result in a breeding population."
Like the late jaguar known as Macho B, this current, unnamed jaguar has established a home range, then returns to or travels within that range, Robinson said, "because they find the necessities of life there -- security, prey, and cover as security."
When an animal that like a jaguar has the potential to travel vast distances and then it stays within a region or a circuit, that's not a coincidence, Robinson says.
"They have found a home where the necessities of life persist for them," he said.
He acknowledged, however, that there's a lot that isn't known about this jaguar, particularly how it can build a territory without having a mater -- "We don't know entirely where the animal is. The thing is, jaguars are largely solitary animals. They come together to mate. I'm not a biologist, but I don't believe they go out with the mate at all times. They mate and they raise young."
Macho B, he noted, showed no signs of mating in this country, yet he persisted across southern Arizona off and on for 15 years, Robinson said.
ASU's Brown, however, said that for a jaguar to be a resident animal in a specific place, is to be an animal with a territory and females to defend.
"What you appear to have now is another Macho B who will go in and out of camera stations until something happens to him," said Brown.
The current jaguar in the Santa Ritas hasn't had any reasons to defend a territory, Brown added. 'i wouldn't use the word territory . . . It's kind of a matter of semantics. It's an area habitually used and defended. These males, they don't usually establish a territory unless there is a female attracted to him.
"This one, you don't have a collar on it. You don't know where it's been. It's not a resident jaguar."
As for the mine itself, Brown would want to stop it, but for other reasons than the presence of a jaguar.
"The Rosemont area is an attractive area. If I were a copper miner, I wouldn't want to stop it. As a wildlife biologist, I wouldn't want to see it there."