U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, who has successfully requested a federal investigation of the jaguar Macho B's death, is seeking a second one.
In a letter Thursday, the Tucson Democrat asked the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General to investigate the case "to identify lessons that might be learned to avoid such an unfortunate event from occurring in the future."
Grijalva listed several reasons for wanting a second investigation on top of one by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that started in early April, also at his request. He expressed concern, for instance, that potential conflicts of interest by agencies involved with Macho B's capture and death "may not allow for a truly objective investigation" by the service. That was an apparent reference to service officials' upfront support for the Feb. 18 capture of the jaguar and his euthanization on March 2.
Public trust and transparency in the processes by which endangered species are managed must be preserved, he said.
"Specifically, it appears that at all levels and at every stage of this process, mistakes were made, and decisions taken that may not have been in the best interest of the animal," the letter said. "Serious allegations have been made about the agencies' and federal and state employees' roles in this matter. …"
While the Inspector General's Office didn't immediately respond to Grijalva's letter, the wildlife service's top law enforcement official in the Southwest bristled at its concern that the agency's investigation may not be objective.
"My policies do not hinder me from investigating anybody within the Fish and Wildlife Service or the Game and Fish Department or any other government agency if there is a specific violation of the statutes we enforce. The ESA is one of those," said Nicholas Chavez, who is in charge of the service's law enforcement activities in the Southwest, in a reference to the federal Endangered Species Act.
"We want it known that the office of law enforcement is thoroughly looking at every aspect of this case," Chavez said Thursday. "Every aspect means just that — every aspect."
The jaguar was caught in a snare trap near the Mexican border on Feb. 18 in what Arizona Game and Fish officials said at the time was an inadvertent capture done as part of a study to capture and radio collar black bears and mountain lions. The jaguar appeared healthy at the time it was captured and collared. But by Feb. 28, its movements had slowed and it was recaptured two days later about five miles from the original capture site.
About five hours after the recapture, the jaguar was euthanized at the recommendation of Phoenix Zoo veterinarians who said that blood tests showed it had irreversible kidney failure.
Since that time, however, various reports, witnesses and outside veterinarians have said, alleged or strongly implied that the capture was deliberate, that the state failed to properly prepare for a jaguar capture, that the jaguar's tissue samples showed no sign of kidney failure and that Macho B's euthanization was premature. Game and fish and wildlife service officials defended their actions and denied any wrongdoing.
Grijalva wrote that his ultimate goal for an inspector general's investigation is to:
• Reveal the facts of the animal's capture.
• Determine whether there may have been federal or state agency wrongdoing or perhaps wrongdoing by individuals representing the agencies involved in the case.
• Determine how various jaguar capture guidelines and protocols development by a multi-agency Jaguar Conservation Team went wrong in this case and where they can be improved.
Kieran Suckling, director of the environmentalist Center for Biological Diversity, said he would like to see an inspector general's investigation because the state and federal agencies' worst failings in this case were rampant negligence, which is terrible but not criminal, whereas the wildlife service investigation is dealing only with potential violations of federal law. Suckling's group had also requested the service's investigation last month.
"We're not going to save the jaguar by simply prosecuting criminals," Suckling said. "We have to expose and reform a long history of negligent policy and that is what the inspector general can get at and law enforcement cannot."
Game and Fish, which has declined to comment on any Macho B-related issues since the wildlife service investigation began, did not respond to requests from the Star to comment on the request for an inspector general's investigation.