[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/TECH/science/05/05/jaguars.fence/art.recent.jag.jpg
caption="Rancher Glenn calls the jaguar a 'beautiful, magnificent cat' that must be saved for future generations."]
When most people think of jaguars they think of the jungles of Central and South America, not the remote desert ranges between the United States and Mexico. When I heard jaguars were coming north across the border and that some there believe the border fence might stop that, I was intrigued.
It was a 20 mile drive on a dirt road south of Douglas, Arizona to reach Warner Glenn's ranch. At six foot six, with his tanned face and steely blue eyes, Glenn may be close to seventy years old, but he is every inch the American cowboy. With Glenn and his daughter Kelly, we saddled up mules and rode up steep canyons to nearly 6 thousand feet. We could see more than 50 miles in every direction, as Glenn pointed out the craggy outcropping where he took the very first picture of a live jaguar in the United States in 1996.
Despite the fact jaguars might prey on his cattle, Glenn’s passionate in his belief that this elusive cat should be allowed to roam back and forth across the border. “I’d be willing to donate a few calves to this animal, says Glenn, ‘it’s a beautiful magnificent cat and I would had to see us do anything that could cause the survival of the cat to go backwards”.
But Glenn and others believe the border fence built to the south of his ranch might do just that. ‘It will stop wildlife, says Glenn, “ but it’s not going to stop the people”. He’s even sponsored a jaguar fund to discourage ranchers from shooting the cat. Any ranchers who lose cattle will be re-imbursed from the fund. So far, no cattle lost.
Three hours to the north, we followed a friend of Glenn and fellow mountain lion tracker Jack Childs to see how his encounter with a jaguar changed his life. Childs organized the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project after he shot the first video of a jaguar just months after Glenn spotted his in 96’. We hiked with he and biologist Emil McCain up into the mountains to see one of their 50 remote cameras they’ve set up to monitor the jaguars. The camera captured shots of mountain lions, coyotes and rabbits, but no jaguars, at least this time. Since 2001, they’ve captured more than 64 images of 3 different cats. Childs and McCain agree with Glenn, they don’t believe the fence will stop illegals or drug runners.
Along a 12 mile stretch of the border fence near Naco, Arizona you can often hear the wind howling through the mesh. Border landowner Bill Odell says he can hear it from inside his house. Odell showed us a ladder and piece of rope he found next to the fence. Obviously he says, someone used it to get over the top. He also showed us a picture of three deer staring at the border fence. ‘The first thing I saw was road runners and rabbits, they were just trying to go back and forth trying to figure out a way to get through it”.
Congress has mandated that 470 miles of fence be completed by the end of the year. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Cherthoff says to make that happen at least 30 environmental laws will have to be waived. He says they will continue to work with landowners and be respectful of the environment,
But he told Congress “we’re going to be expeditious”.
Environmentalists are in an uproar and both the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife have filed lawsuits to stop the waivers.
What does it all mean to this rare and exotic cat? No one really knows. But it’s clear for many people here, the jaguar represents what’s left of the wild west and no one seems to want to see that disappear any time soon.
Editor's Note: For more on the boder-fence dispute with the jaguar, check out Rusty's full story here
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