美國魚類暨野生動物保護局4日宣布，為復育瀕危的美洲豹，將在亞利桑那州南方和新墨西哥州設立廣達1194平方英里的「 瀕危棲息地 」（critical habitat）。
Endangered jaguars will have 1,194 square miles of critical habitat in southern Arizona and New Mexico for their recovery, under a rule finalized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday.
The gold and black-spotted jaguar, Panthera onca, is the world’s third-largest cat, after tigers and lions.
Jaguars once roamed from southern California through the Southwest and lived in Louisiana, Kentucky and North Carolina, but only six, possibly seven, jaguars, all males, have been detected in the United States since 1982, says the Service.
No documented females or breeding pairs have occurred in the United States for over 50 years. The last female jaguar in the United States was shot by a hunter in 1963 on Arizona’s Mogollon Rim.
Jaguars still live in Mexico and points south, and have been seen within 40 miles of the Mexico-U.S. border. But the big cats have largely disappeared from their U.S. range due to clearing of forests and draining of wetlands and killing to protect livestock. The species is categorized as Near Threatened on the authoritative IUCN Red List.
Conservationists say protected habitat in the United States will allow jaguars to naturally repopulate their former range as they move northward from the nearest core population in Mexico.
The critical habitat designation prohibits federal agencies from destroying or “adversely modifying” the designated habitat by granting permits for mining or other commercial activities that would make the habitat unsuitable for jaguars.
There is currently a jaguar living on U.S. Forest Service land in the Santa Rita Mountains outside Tucson in the footprint of the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine.
This jaguar is the first of the big cats documented in the United States since 2009, when, during an illegal capture operation, the Arizona Game and Fish Department injured, then euthanized, a jaguar that had lived at least 16 years in the Atascosa and Pajarito mountains.
But the new critical habitat designation does include the Santa Rita Mountains. It consists of six units, each containing one or more mountain ranges in which jaguars have been recorded in recent years or through which they are thought to have traveled.
Peer-reviewed research shows that species with designated critical habitat are twice as likely to make progress toward recovery as those without such habitat. The Fish and Wildlife Service now plans to release a draft jaguar recovery plan this spring.