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IG Report: Last U.S. Jaguar Captured, Killed Intentionally

WASHINGTON, DC, January 22, 2010 (ENS) – The last known wild jaguar in the United States captured and killed last year in Arizona, was intentionally caught by employees of the Arizona Game and Fish Department in a snare, the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General said in a report issued Wednesday that implicates the state agency in criminal activities.

Jaguars are a federally protected endangered species. The death and subsequent necropsy of this animal, named Macho B, are subject to an ongoing criminal investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Tucson, Arizona.

“Our review of the FWS agents’ documentation showed evidence linking an AZGFD subcontractor and possibly an AZGFD employee to criminal wrongdoing in the capture of Macho B. There was no evidence to suggest criminal involvement by any FWS or other Department of the Interior employees,” the Inspector General’s Office states in its report, issued Tuesday.

The Inspector General’s report states, “In February 2009, the jaguar was captured in a leg-hold snare meant for mountain lions and black bears. The jaguar was identified as Macho B, fixed with a GPS tracking device, and set free. Within days after being released, the GPS collar indicated Macho B was not moving, so researchers decided to search for him. Once located, veterinarians determined that Macho B was suffering from renal (kidney) failure and euthanized him.”

“We found that the AZGFD was aware of Macho B’s presence in the vicinity of its mountain lion and black bear study in late December 2008 and January 2009, yet it did not consult with FWS, as required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. The ESA directs any nonfederal entity receiving federal funding to contact the appropriate local FWS office for a biological opinion when an endangered species stands the possibility of being accidentally captured,” the report explains.

The AZGFD issued a statement February 26, 2009 saying, “The male cat was incidentally captured Feb. 18 in an area southwest of Tucson during a research study aimed at monitoring habitat connectivity for mountain lions and black bears. It was the first capture and collaring of a wild jaguar in the United States.”

The IG’s investigation into these events was conducted at the request of Congressmen Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, and Nick Rahall II, a West Virginia Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Congressmen Grijalva said today, “The Inspector General’s report confirmed my suspicions and concerns that the original capture of the last known living jaguar in Arizona by Arizona Game and Fish Department employees was not authorized under the law.”

“I am troubled to find that there is evidence linking a Game and Fish subcontractor, and possibly an employee, to criminal wrongdoing in this capture. The report found that the Memorandum of Understanding between AZGFD and the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requiring consultation between the agencies was ignored by Game and Fish and that both the Agency and its contractor lacked the necessary permits that would allow it to intentionally or incidentally snare a jaguar in the course of its study on bears and mountain lions.”

“Unfortunately, bungling by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding a necropsy of the animal hampered efforts to determine the cause of death,” Grijalva said.

The report identifies FWS Arizona state office field supervisor Steve Spangle as having decided to euthanize Macho B. Spangle told investigators, “…that because Macho B was an older cat – about 16 to 20 years old – and had never been in captivity, it would have been inhumane to keep him sedated, in captivity, or to release him to die in the wild.”

Macho B with collar and satellite tracking device (Photo courtesy AZGFD)

Spangle is also identified as having wrongly approved the skinning of the jaguar because he was unfamiliar with the word “necropsy,” which means autopsy when it refers to the postmortem examination of an animal’s body.

Spangle “incorrectly gave approval to AZGFD for a cosmetic necropsy of Macho B, verses a complete necropsy, because he did not know the difference between the two procedures,” the report states. “Thus, some organs were inaccessible, leaving doubt as to the cause of death.”

The Phoenix Zoo’s necropsy summary report, dated March 2, 2009, and tissue samples from Macho B were sent to Dr. Gregory Bradley, a doctor of veterinary medicine of the University of Arizona for examination.

Four days later, Dr. Bradley issued a report, stating, “The histologic sections of the kidneys do not indicate significant renal disease.”

The Inspector General states, “With the exception of Dr. Bradley, all of the other animal experts agreed with Dr. Rice of the Phoenix Zoo that Macho B had died of renal failure.” But this too is incorrect, because the animal was euthanized and did not die of kidney failure.

“This report affirms all of the legal claims in our litigation to prevent Arizona Game and Fish from killing another jaguar, and will be critical evidence at trial,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, referring to a lawsuit filed by the Center on September 24, 2009.

“This report makes our very strong case even stronger because it confirms the violations,” Robinson said. “Arizona Game and Fish still maintains that it has the right to capture another jaguar, but the judge will read that the conduct the agency defends has already been found to be illegal.”

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