Posted by: Loren Coleman on May 16th, 2010
One of the concerns I have heard from people in the field who say they have only seen or might be tempted to shoot a mystery cat is the fear the government might charge them with some crime.
Never mind that these mystery cats, whether “black panthers” or “unknown felids,” might be unknown species or out-of-place large cats, people do fret. Even though there may not be any laws on the books about the taking of such cryptid cats, people are anxious. Little does it matter that the only way to prove the identity of an unknown felid is to catch, trap, or kill the cat, people feel some distress about what might be done to them.
Is there good cause for folks to worry?
Mark A. Hall tracked down three stories of people in the South having killed “black panthers.” All three ended with the hunters destroying, by burning or burying, the bodies of the melanistic cats. They believed they would be charged with violating some “endangered species” law or some other seemingly imagined illegality. They said they didn’t want to take any chances. Of course, some debunkers of the mystery black cat reports didn’t believe them.
In recent exchanges I’ve had involving game wardens or wildlife biologists having sighted “black panthers” in New England, the stories usually finish with statements from the government employees along the lines of, “But, of course, I wasn’t going to tell anyone where I worked or I would lose my job.”
Now comes a rather complex breaking news story out of the American Southwest about what is being called the death of the “only jaguar in the USA,” and how the individuals who were involved in this unfortunate event were treated.
The jaguar was released after having a tracking collar fitted to its neck. What happened later would not result in a happy ending for it or those studying it. Credit: Arizona Game and Fish Department.
A southern Arizona biologist pleaded guilty on Friday (May 14, 2010) to a misdemeanor federal charge for his role in the 2009 trapping and subsequent death of a rare jaguar known as “Macho B.”
Emil McCain, 31, of Patagonia, entered his plea to illegally “taking” an endangered species in U.S. District Court in Tucson and was immediately sentenced to five years probation. McCain was also barred from being employed or involved in any project or job involving large wild cats, according to his plea agreement.
McCain worked with the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project, which was contracted by a joint New Mexico-Arizona jaguar conservation team to study the elusive big cats.
A Game and Fish employee who worked with McCain has been fired.
A U.S. attorney’s office spokesman said the criminal investigation was ongoing but wouldn’t comment on whether others might also be charged. Another investigation into the matter by the state wildlife department was also ongoing.
Macho B was trapped on Feb. 18, 2009, fitted with a radio collar and released. Game and Fish initially called it an “inadvertent capture” and a potential treasure trove for scientists trying to determine if the cats lived in the U.S. or just were occasional visitors from Mexico.
The jaguar was recaptured due to health problems and euthanized on March 2, 2009. It was the only known wild jaguar in the United States.
It wasn’t until several months later that questions began to arise about whether the jaguar had been intentionally the target of Game and Fish trappers who were looking for cougars and bears.
According to the plea agreement McCain signed, he placed jaguar scat or told a woman on the trapping team to place jaguar scat at three snare sites in an attempt to capture and trap the jaguar.
McCain knew a jaguar had recently been in the remote area between Arivaca and Nogales and the Game and Fish team he was working with only had authorization to trap mountain lions and bears for research, his plea stated.
“We now know that McCain acted in a personal capacity to intentionally capture a jaguar,” Arizona Game and Fish said in a statement. “McCain’s admission of guilt supports the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s longstanding assertion that agency personnel did not set out with intention to capture a jaguar.
“Until the Department has access to the federal investigation, the Department’s own internal investigation continues to be open and ongoing.”
McCain’s lawyer, Alfred Donau, said his client has already taken a job out of the country as a wildlife biologist but wouldn’t disclose where. Donau told The Associated Press Friday that while McCain was remorseful the jaguar had died, the trapping would have had much different results if the cat had lived because he was seeking scientific data for conservation purposes.
“If this jaguar hadn’t been the equivalent of 100 years old human age and he lived it would have been a huge boon to scientific research, because we would have known with a collar on him whether or not he was from Mexico or the native range was Arizona,” Donau said.
“If the cat hadn’t died, there would have been a much different point of view of what took place here. This isn’t a case where somebody went out and tried to kill an animal.”
Read the rest of “So. Ariz. man pleads guilty in jaguar’s death” by Bob Christie, here.
A collared jaguar nicknamed Macho B is seen in this February 2009 photo provided by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. On Feb. 18, 2009, Macho B, who had been documented by tracking cameras since 1996, was inadvertently snared by an Arizona Game and Fish Department trap. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Center for Biological Diversity, on opposite sides of a lawsuit scheduled for federal trial in March 2009 over the jaguar, disagreed over what good the new information from the collar would supply. Credit: Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Should we be surprised by eyewitnesses’ caution regarding their sighting reports of large cats in the USA? Or those who have said they had “proof,” a dead body?