Did Arizona Officials Contribute to Death of Jaguar?

I was saddened by an article that appeared on Livescience recently. The USA's only known wild jaguar has died. A rare jaguar captured and collared...


I was saddened by an article that appeared on Livescience recently. The USA’s only known wild jaguar has died.

A rare jaguar captured and collared in Arizona two weeks ago was euthanized after falling ill, state game officials said.

The jaguar was the only one spotted in the United States in more than a decade. Officials captured the cat Feb. 18 as part of a program to study bears and mountain lions. A procedure had previously been put in place to attach a satellite collar to any such fortuitously captured jaguar, so wildlife experts could monitor its movements to learn more about the extremely rare creatures.

The jaguar stopped moving, however.

Biologists found the male jaguar, brought it to a zoo, and he was put down that day. Officials say the cat, named Macho B, suffered kidney failure, common among old cats.

Macho B was first spotted by automatic trail cameras in 1996 when he was about age 2 or 3. He was thought to be 15 or 16 – relatively old for jaguars – when he was euthanized.

The article continues:

The cat had dropped from 118 pounds at the time of his capture last month to just 99.5 pounds Monday . . . [a] necropsy (animal autopsy) will be performed to learn more about the jaguar’s condition and to possibly provide clues to how long the animal had been sick.

In a statement released yesterday, officials did not say whether . . . they might or might not have contributed the animal’s demise.

The Arizona officials may be keeping mum about their role in Macho B’s death, but I will weigh in. What follows is speculation based on my experiences working with big cats in California and Botswana.

To work with a jaguar safely, the cat must be anesthetized. Chemical restraint (as anesthesia is often called by wildlife experts) of a wild cat generally involves loading drugs into a syringe dart and firing the dart at the cat.

All anesthetic agents have the potential to trigger low blood pressure. Low blood pressure can damage the kidneys. This especially true of kidneys that are already compromised by pre-existing disease. Veterinarians generally prefer to run blood tests on patients before anesthesia so that the kidneys and other organs can be assessed. Obviously, it is not possible to run blood tests on a wild jaguar before darting him.

I suspect that Macho B, like many elderly cats, was suffering from kidney disease before he was captured by Arizona officials. The anesthetic procedure stressed his already weak kidneys and pushed them over the edge, causing his health to fail rapidly.

I should stress that I do not believe that the officials who captured Macho B caused his death. The kidney disease was going to catch up with the jaguar eventually. However, I do believe that Macho B’s death was accelerated by the procedure.

Finally, I am in no way convinced that the Arizona officials did anything wrong. Everything I have read indicates that their capture strategy and techniques were well thought out and executed (although it is not clear whether Macho B’s advanced age was considered when the decision was made to capture him).

The people who captured Macho B certainly were animal lovers. I have a strong hunch that they are utterly devastated by his death.

Photo credit: Colin Burnett

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