A Rare Glimpse of America’s Only Wild Jaguar

This handsome feline just made his movie debut.

The only known wild jaguar in the United States made a rare, unwitting appearance in front of the cameras last fall, and he’s one good-looking cat. The Center for Biological Diversity released the video on Wednesday.

Scientist Chris Bugbee of Conservation CATalyst caught the handsome feline known as El Jefe on remote sensor cameras in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains, about 25 miles from downtown Tucson.

In a news release, Bugbee said his team used a “specially trained scat detection dog” and spent three years tracking the jaguar to get the footage. The video was collected last fall over one to two months, according to Randy Serraglio, the Southwest conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“To have jaguars in the United States is pretty rare, for recent times especially,” said Michelle LaRue, research ecologist at the University of Minnesota and executive director of the Cougar Network. She said they’re common in South America, Central America, and, to a lesser extent, Mexico. Historically, jaguars have been found in southern areas of the United States like Arizona and Texas. There have been reports of them in Louisiana, too, but that was more than 100 years ago, LaRue said.

El Jefe first popped up in 2011, and experts guess that he’s around seven years old, though no one is sure. And as far as they know, he pretty much hangs out by himself, roaming the Santa Rita Mountains and snacking on deer and little pig-like creatures called collared peccaries. “They’re like most cats,” LaRue said of jaguars. “They’re solitary except for when mating or raising kittens.”

Serraglio said we don’t know how close the nearest female is, but the nearest breeding population is about 130 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Center for Biological Diversity released this video as a Canadian mining company is considering El Jefe’s home range as the site for a future copper mine.

“If you’re like me, when you see this video of this beautiful animal in the wild, acting naturally, it’s just a great thrill,” Serraglio said. “We want everybody to see this video and be inspired to protect this cat, protect the species, protect its home, so we can have jaguars in the United States again.”