TUCSON - A newspaper report shows that an Arizona Game and Fish employee and a biologist with a jaguar detection group apparently planned to trap one of the rare cats and that a volunteer spread scent to attract it to a snare.
Game and Fish has repeatedly characterized the capture as "inadvertent." The male cat was euthanized less than two weeks after its Feb. 18 capture and subsequent release with a tracking collar fitted, and the case is now being investigated by the Arizona Attorney General's Office.
The Arizona Daily Star in Tucson interviewed a volunteer who worked with the state worker and the biologist. She acknowledged spreading the scent that the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project obtained from the Phoenix and Tucson zoos.
E-mails obtained by the paper from Game and Fish and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show that the biologist with the Borderlands group also obtained a tracking collar for the cat before it was captured, consulted with veterinarians on tranquilizer dosages for jaguars and included the Game and Fish employee in his communications.
Borderlands volunteer Janay Brun told the Star that she put the female jaguar scent at the site of the trap two weeks before the cat known as Macho B was snared. The cat was released, but later tracking showed it was showing signs of poor health and he was recaptured and then euthanized.
Brun, 37, of Arivaca, said she spoke to the Star because she thinks she helped cause the death of Macho B. "That jaguar meant a lot to me, and the fact that I mindlessly participated in this — it's a regret I'll have for the rest of my life."
She said she put the scent out in the presence of a state Game and Fish employee and Emil McCain, a biologist for the project. Brun alleges that McCain told her to place the scat at the site.
McCain denied having told Brun to place jaguar scat at the snare site and said he didn't know that she had done it.
"I'm extremely shocked that she would have said that or put scat in that snare," McCain said. "That snare was obviously for mountain lion and bear purposes, not for jaguar research."
But in a series of e-mail obtained by the Star, McCain and the Game and Fish employee received advice on how to tranquilize a jaguar, McCain thanked a collar company for sending the jaguar tracking device, and McCain wrote to the Game and Fish employee and a collar company worker about plans for keeping the device turned on.
"At this point I think that for the week long trapping periods in the area where we may capture a jag, I think we should leave that collar (turned) on," McCain wrote on Feb. 13. "Especailly (sic) given the remmoteness (sic) of the area, the lack of internet or phone access and the once in a lifetime change (sic) to collar a AZ jag, I think it is prudent to be 100 (percent) sure the collar is on."
The Star didn't identify the state employee because he couldn't be reached for comment.
An Arizona Game and Fish spokesman didn't immediately return a call seeking comment on Thursday.
The largest cats native to the Western hemisphere live primarily in Mexico and South America. But they're known to roam in southern Arizona and New Mexico, and the February capture was the first in Arizona.
Earlier this week, a federal judge in Tucson ruled that a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision not to designate critical habitat and develop a recovery plan for the endangered jaguar was based on incorrect criteria.