Jaguar from Mexico may pose roadblock to Trump's border wall

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El Jefe hasn't been photographed in a year. (Source: Conservation CATalyst) El Jefe hasn't been photographed in a year. (Source: Conservation CATalyst)
Patagonia, AZ (CBS 5) -

A full-grown male jaguar named "El Jefe," and at least one other cat like it, may provide opponents of President Trump's border wall with a unique legal challenge. That is that cutting off these cats from their larger population in Mexico would doom them to re-extinction in the United States.

But there are real challenges ahead before any environmental lawyer can make that argument.

El Jefe was first spotted from a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter in 2011. It's been photographed and videotaped more than 100 times since then, but only by remote "wildlife" cameras. Jaguars used to roam the mountains of southern Arizona but were hunted to extinction in the state in the early 1900s in an effort to protect cattle. In the past 20 years, as many as six males have been spotted just north of the Mexican border.

[READ MORE: Officials confirm wild jaguar shown in photo is new]

"The jaguar is the only cat in North America that roars," said Randy Serraglio, who works for the Center for Biological Diversity, which advocates for environmental causes and endangered species.

The Center has filed court action on behalf of jaguars in the past. Serraglio argues that the border wall would block the great cats from going to and from Mexico, where they breed with females.

"Trump's wall would end any chance of recovery for the jaguar in the United States," said Serraglio.

[RELATED: Video shows only known US jaguar roaming Arizona mountains]

In order to prevail in a legal argument on behalf of the jaguar, lawyers would need to show that Section 102 of the Real ID Act is unconstitutional. That section grants the Homeland Security Secretary the ability to waive environmental laws when building a border barrier. Environmental attorneys argue that placing such broad discretion in the hands of an unelected official is unprecedented.

If environmental groups are able to accomplish a court challenge to The Real ID Act, they could argue that the Endangered Species Act protects the jaguar.

Meantime, El Jefe hasn't been photographed in a year. Serraglio believes he may be in Mexico, breeding, and could return to the Santa Rita Mountains any time. A second male jaguar was photographed in the Huachuca Mountains in December.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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Morgan  LoewMorgan Loew is an investigative reporter at CBS 5 News. His career has taken him to every corner of the state, lots of corners in the United States, and some far-flung corners of the globe.

Click to learn more about Morgan .

Morgan Loew
CBS 5 Investigates

Morgan’s past assignments include covering the invasion of Iraq, human smuggling in Mexico, vigilantes on the border and Sheriff Arpaio in Maricopa County. His reports have appeared or been featured on CBS News, CNN, NBC News, MSNBC and NPR.

Morgan’s peers have recognized his work with 11 Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards , two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for investigative reporting, an SPJ First Amendment Award and a commendation from the Humane Society of the United States. Last fall, Morgan was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle, in recognition of 25 years of contribution to the television industry in Arizona.

Morgan is a graduate of the University of Arizona journalism school and Concord Law School. He is the president of the Arizona First Amendment Coalition and teaches media law and TV news reporting at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When he’s not out looking for the next big news story, Morgan enjoys hiking, camping, cheering for the Arizona Wildcats and spending time with his family at their southern Arizona ranch.

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