(Updated with an additional quote from Thorry Smith's interview transcript near the bottom)
Since beginning to research the death of the jaguar Macho B, more than a year ago, I've wondered about the attached journal article. It's called "Evidence of resident jaguars (Panthera onca) in the Southwestern United States and the implications for conservation."
It's authors are Jack Childs, who founded the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project, and Emil McCain, who was the group's biologist. Last year, McCain's name became familiary because of his role in the capture of Macho B, the only jaguar known to live in the wild in the United States.
When I learned last April that McCain had for years used fertile female jaguar scat to capture better pictures of jaguars, that raised a question for me about this article. You see, this journal piece argues that McCain's camera-trap photos of jaguars show that the animals are resident in the United States. One of the key pieces of evidence: In the pictures, jaguars are seen marking trees with their scent, as if they were trying to communicate with other jaguars.
The problem I saw with this picture is that nowhere in the piece does it mention the use of fertile female jaguar scat from zoos. Other researchers told me the principal use of the scat is to make jaguars stop in front of camera traps, so that the motion-sensing cameras get better pictures. But wouldn't using female scat at the camera sites also tell male jaguars that there is a potential mate around, and therefore make it worthwhile for the males to mark a spot with their scent?
I went so far as to track down one of the peer reviewers who had looked at the piece before it was published. He was nonplussed by my questions and not worried that the possible use of scat had affected the research outcomes.
But then there was this, from Thorry Smith's interview with Arizona Game and Fish for the agency's internal investigation. Talking about Emil McCain, he described McCain pulling a scat out of a bag. "He said -- it's kind of hush hush. And I assumed that wasn't because we were doing our snaring up there it was because he had published a paper in the Journal of Mammalogy and that wasn't in the methods."
(Updated info:) Later in the transcript, Smith takes on the point more directly. He said of McCain "His point in that paper was that there was a male jaguar that may have been residential in the United States. He didn't say that he put female jaguar there maybe to keep him that way. So that might blow that paper out of the water."
And I continue to wonder about the validity of the conclusions of that piece.