Video: Rare jaguar footage highlights conservation struggle

Video: Rare jaguar footage highlights conservation struggle

The only known wild jaguar in the US has made his film debut in footage captured and released by a conservation centre.

In Conservation CATalyst and the Center for Biological Diversity's footage, the big cat is seen prowling his territories in Arizona's Santa Rita Mountains in a series of videos captured by remote sensor cameras. In the second clip, the jaguar stares down the barrel of the camera for a chilling moment before veering off to the side.

Although he's been seen in photos before now, this is the first time video of him has been released publicly, providing a glimpse into the mammal's secretive life.

El Jefe, Spanish for "the boss" and named by school children in Arizona's city of Tucson, is the only confirmed wild jaguar in the US since the death of Macho B in 2009.

Chris Bugbee has been collecting data on him for the past three years and is a biologist with Conservation CATalyst. He says El Jefe's been extremely difficult to follow.

"We use our specially trained scat detection dog and spent three years tracking in rugged mountains, collecting data and refining camera sites; these videos represent the peak of our efforts."

Mr Bugbee says the research on the endangered big cat is crucial for the species' survival.

"Jaguars have always occurred in Arizona and yet we know so little about them in the northern portion of their range," he says. "Arizona should be poised to harbour and protect both jaguars and ocelots as they continue to disperse out from Sonora."

The rare cats are considered threatened or endangered in almost all of their habitats, with the numbers of them located in the US crashing over the last 150 years.

In 1963, the last verified female jaguar in the US was shot dead by a hunter.

Their struggle for survival isn't helped by the fact they're not too keen on making friends with each other -- the cats prefer to live on their own, and only "tolerate each other" in order to breed, says Aletris Neils, executive director of Conservation CATalyst.

Added to that, overhunting by humans and habitat loss has made it a battle to keep the species alive.

And the final blow -- a Canadian mining company is planning to push in on El Jefe's habitat, according to Conservation CATalyst. The mountains need to be protected to ensure not only El Jefe's survival, but the possibility of more jaguars moving back to the US, Mr Bugbee says.

"Clearly, the Santa Rita Mountains are a vital part of this cat's home range. This jaguar has been photographed in every month of the year in these mountains -- there are more than 100 detections of him in the Santa Ritas since 2013. How could anyone argue the importance of these mountains?"

It's hoped the release of the footage of El Jefe stalking through the undergrowth can draw attention to the struggle the magnificent cat faces.