Jaguar Recovery Plan for Habitat Areas

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- A plan by wildlife officials to bolster the endangered jaguar population in the U.S. Southwest and Mexico by establishing two sprawling habitat areas drew criticism Wednesday from environmental groups.

The final recovery plan for the large cats was released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

It calls for one habitat area from western Mexico into southern Arizona and southwest New Mexico. The other would stretch from eastern Mexico to northern Argentina.

Mexico as well as countries in Central and South America would be primarily responsible for monitoring jaguar movements within their territory, according to the plan.

Environmental groups slammed the plan. Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity called it "feeble" because it "relies entirely on Mexico to ensure the cats' survival."

Robinson says the ability of the animals to roam the proposed area straddling the U.S. and Mexico could be stymied if the Trump administration builds a wall along the border.

Even with gaps to accommodate jaguars, a wall would cut off the possibility of the animals recovering in their native range, he said.

Defenders of Wildlife said the U.S. agency is overlooking millions of acres of potential habitat farther north in the U.S.

Jaguars are currently found in 19 countries, but only seven male jaguars have been seen in Arizona and New Mexico since 1996. The animals have been protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 1997.

Shrinking habitats, insufficient prey, poaching and retaliatory killings over livestock deaths are some of the things that have contributed to the jaguar's decline in the U.S. Southwest over the past 150 years.

The Center for Biological Diversity released video in 2017 of a male jaguar spotted on camera in southern Arizona. Conservationists had hoped it would turn out to be the first female jaguar to be seen in decades.