One of only two jaguars known to be living in the United States was shown dead in a photo released June 21.
The photo shows a pelt with markings that match Yo’oko, a young male jaguar who roamed the Huachuca Mountains in southern Arizona in 2016 and 2017.
The pattern of rosettes on a jaguar is unique, enabling identification of specific individuals. The cat’s name, which is the Yaqui word for jaguar, was chosen last year by students of Hiaki High School in Tucson.
“This tragedy is piercing,” said Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It highlights the urgency to protect jaguar habitat on both sides of the border and ensure that these rare, beautiful cats have safe places to live.”
Few details of the photo or the cat’s death are known at this time.
Yo’oko had been photographed just north of the border several times in late 2016 and 2017, showing up regularly on trail cameras monitored by wildlife biologists and volunteers.
“We must continue working to overcome the cultural prejudice that jaguars are somehow enemies of people,” said Serraglio. “Indigenous people of the Americas have revered jaguars as majestic, powerful spirits of the wild for thousands of years. Whoever killed Yo’oko could learn a lot from them.”
U.S. jaguars are part of a small, vulnerable population concentrated south of the Arizona border in Sonora, Mexico.
“The presence of jaguars in our mountains tells us that they are still whole and still wild,” said Serraglio. “The thought of having to explain to those kids at Hiaki High School that somebody killed their favorite jaguar really just breaks my heart.”
Jaguars are the third-largest cats in the world after tigers and lions. They once lived throughout the American Southwest, with historical records on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the mountains of Southern California and as far east as Louisiana. Jaguars virtually disappeared from this part of their range over the past 150 years, primarily due to habitat loss and historic government predator control programs intended to protect the livestock industry.
Jaguars continue to move into Arizona from Mexico. Seven jaguars have been confirmed by photographs in the United States in the past 20 years.