Macho B crossed borders for more than a dozen years. Despite our best efforts at constructing barriers and disrupting his natural inclinations, the magnificent male jaguar defied our political borders to roam the wilds of Southern Arizona for a good portion of his 15 or 16 years on this planet.
What did Macho B teach us between the time he was first videotaped by hunter Jack Childs on Aug. 31, 1996, and March 2, 2009, when he was killed at the Phoenix Zoo?
We learned that someone could choose to use ancient skills such as tracking and bush knowledge to understand the ways of jaguars and set up remote motion-triggered cameras in just the right places to watch their lives more closely. Jack and Anna Childs devoted their lives to this effort, and to these great cats — the Americas' only roaring cat and one of the top predators in our hemisphere. They even traveled to Brazil to learn more about tracking jaguars.
Using these non-invasive tools, the Childs, Emil McCain, a field biologist with the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project, and numerous volunteers spent more than 12 years quietly observing and recording the jaguars that ventured into Arizona from their more southern homelands in Mexico. Macho B was the star. He was photographed more than 80 times.
And Macho B provided us with a wealth of information: He was at least 15 or 16 years old; his home range was at least 525 square miles; he was part of a population of jaguars that prowl southern Arizona up to 50 miles north of the border in every month of the year; he used a wide range of habitats and elevations; and he was nearly strictly nocturnal.
Macho B also taught us that we were on the right track for conservation in Southern Arizona. Why else would he have chosen to roam for so many years in the landscapes south and west of Tucson? These landscapes are still large and unfragmented, a combination of protected federal land and ranch lands.
But last year Arizona Game and Fish embarked on a mountain lion and black bear study that encompassed the known Arizona range of this very well-documented jaguar. By their own accounting, the department had all the information it needed to make informed decisions concerning the presence of jaguars in the area, including the fact that several months before the Feb. 18 snaring of Macho B, the jaguar was photographed near the areas where snares were set.
So, it was known that an endangered animal was highly likely to walk into one of the many snares put out to capture mountain lions and black bears. Knowing that the risks from capture and drugs were even greater to an older animal, knowing we had this incredibly special jaguar sharing with us so much, we have to ask, why did the team not determine that the risk was too great, and choose to let Macho B reach the end of his long life in the wild, without confusion and fear?
And so the final lesson Macho B taught us, with his death, is that we humans cannot choose to leave one last thing wild, for either its sake or ours. Crossing the line between wild Macho B and us, we had to reach out and grab him, manipulate him, drug him, collar him and, in the end, kill him.
Where there was once a quiet communication between species, slow and fruitful, now there is only silence.
On StarNet: Field biologist Emil B. McCain writes in a guest opinion about Macho B's contribution to science. azstarnet.com/opinion