Scientists and wildlife managers have united to make a pitch: They say it's time to bring back jaguars to the American Southwest. In a new paper in the journal Conservation Science and Practice, the authors say the big cat could be successfully reintroduced to a mountainous area spanning Arizona and New Mexico, reports the Guardian. Jaguars mostly inhabit South and Central America, though they roamed the US Southwest until being hunted to extinction there in the 1960s. Individual cats are spotted every now and then in the region, notes the AP, and the new paper points to an area of 31,800 square miles that wildlife experts say could sustain a population of up to 150 jaguars. Most of the land is currently managed by the US government or Native American tribes.
"We are attempting to start a new conversation around jaguar recovery, and this would be a project that would be decades in the making," says Sharon Wilcox of Defenders of Wildlife, one of the study's authors. "There are ecological dimensions, human dimensions that would need to be addressed in a truly collaborative manner." Those "human dimensions" include likely opposition from farmers and rural residents who have previously opposed the reintroduction of gray wolves in the region. In a release at EurekAlert, Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity makes the case that the "Southwest's native wildlife evolved with jaguars." The third-largest big cat "has a storied and vital place in our canyons and forests, so we should plan an intelligent and humane reintroduction program," he says. (Read more jaguar stories.)