He slinks through the Arizona underbrush in the Santa Rita Mountains, like a boss.
Which is completely fitting given that his moniker, El Jefe, is the Spanish word for someone who tells everyone else what to do.
This rare glimpse of what is perhaps the only living jaguar in the United States comes to us courtesy of the conservation group Conservation CATalyst, whose carefully stationed cameras shot the video, via the Center for Biological Diversity, which sent out a statement highlighting the footage.
The groups released the video for a reason: Like the sacred Apache site Oak Flat to the north, this iconic animal’s homeland is threatened by a mining company’s plans.
The Canadian Rosemount Minding Company wants to dig up part of the Santa Rita Mountains for a massive open-pit copper mine. Sound familiar? It’s not unlike the plan being put forth by Resolution Copper, whose 2015 land grab for its own mining purposes farther north, outside Phoenix, was one for the record books.
Similarly, the specter of mining is threatening El Jefe’s home turf, the Center for Biological Diversity said. At a mile wide, with 800-foot-high piles of toxic mine waste, thousands of acres of pristine jaguar habitat would be destroyed, the conservation groups said.
“Clearly, the Santa Rita Mountains are a vital part of this cat’s home range,” said Chris Bugbee, a biologist with Conservation CATalyst, in the center’s statement. “How could anyone argue the importance of these mountains?”
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Just having El Jefe north of the Mexican border is a coup, the conservationists said. This male cat most likely came north from its original breeding population in Sonora, Mexico, about 125 miles south, experts told National Geographic.
“Probably these individuals left that breeding population in Sonora and struck out on their own as young male jaguars do,” said Luke Hunter, president and chief conservation officer for the big-cat conservation group Panthera, to National Geographic. “Their mothers kick them out of their birth home range, and these young male cats are great explorers.”
While jaguars have been known to edge over the border into the Southwestern U.S., El Jefe is the only one known to have stayed, according to the Washington Post.
Experts agree that protecting these majestic animals—sacred to numerous indigenous cultures—is essential. Key to that is keeping these 764,207 acres in Arizona and New Mexico that were designated as critical jaguar habitat in 2014 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service free of mining and other industrial development, the Center for Biological Diversity said.
“The Rosemont Mine would destroy El Jefe’s home and severely hamstring recovery of jaguars in the United States,” said Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate with the center. “At ground zero for the mine is the intersection of three major wildlife corridors that are essential for jaguars moving back into the U.S. to reclaim lost territory. The Santa Rita Mountains are critically important to jaguar recovery in this country, and they must be protected.”
Watch for yourself, below, as The Boss glides through the wilderness of which he is master.