Unique jaguar makes public debut at the Phoenix Zoo

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The Phoenix Zoo is is pleased to introduce it new jaguar, Lucero. A wild-born jaguar from Mexico - one of very few wild-born jaguars in captivity - made his public debut at the Phoenix Zoo on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2009.

Illegally captured in Mexico, Lucero (loo-SAIR-oh) suffered extensive damage to his canine teeth due to inadequate confinement, before being confiscated by the authorities and transferred to Centro Ecologico de Sonora, a large zoo located in Hermosillo. The Mexican government authorized a one-year loan of Lucero to the Phoenix Zoo, with a possibility of an additional year, so that critical dental surgery could be performed. The loan of the cat was coordinated in partnership with the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Zoo.

"We are very excited to be able to continue to play a role in the important efforts of the Jaguar Conservation Team, " said Phoenix Zoo President/CEO Bert Castro. "It's an honor to be able to allow our Phoenix Zoo guests the opportunity to see this magnificent animal up-close and to educate them on the jaguar's plight in the wild."

Dr. Chris Visser, a board-certified veterinary dental specialist, volunteered his time to perform the dental surgeries, which occurred on Nov. 21, 2008 and Jan. 10, 2009 at the Zoo's Animal Care Center. Joining Dr. Visser in the effort was his son, human dentist Dr. Louis Visser, and a team of veterinarians who helped perform four root canals and three extractions to repair Lucero's life-threatening dental damage.

Lucero has spent the last month recovering and getting acquainted to his new exhibit and the Zoo's female jaguar, Caipora (ky-POUR-uh), with whom he will share the exhibit.

"It is our hope that we will eventually receive permission from Mexico and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) Species Suvival Plan® (SSP) to breed Caipora and Lucero, " said Castro. "It would be an exciting and unusual opportunity to boost the genetic diversity of the zoo-managed population of jaguars."

An SSP is a cooperative effort among all AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums dedicated to the management of captive populations of flagship species, ensuring genetic diversity, appropriate breeding activity, and in many cases, supporting conservation of species in their native ranges.

"Having this animal in captivity provides an exciting opportunity for jaguar conservation, " said Bill Van Pelt, the jaguar conservation program manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. "DNA studies done during his stay will help us learn more about the little-studied population segment that uses southern Arizona and New Mexico as the northern extent of its range."

The U.S. has listed jaguars as endangered since 1997. They once ranged from southern South America through Central America and Mexico and into the southern United States. By the late 1900s, jaguars were thought to be gone from the U.S. landscape but two independent sightings in 1996 confirmed that jaguars still used Arizona and New Mexico as part of the northern-most extent of their range.

The species has been protected outside of the United States under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 1972. That protection was extended to jaguars within the U.S. in 1997, the year after their presence in the Arizona and New Mexico borderlands was confirmed.

The entire project of making Lucero's transport possible was made possible through support from Arizona's Heritage Fund. The Heritage Fund was established by Arizona voters to further conservation efforts in the state including protecting endangered species, educating our children about wildlife, helping urban residents to better coexist with wildlife and creating new opportunities for outdoor recreation.