Jaguars with “well-worn teeth” in AZ-NM may not be naturally occurring

Should we assume that every jaguar historically documented in Arizona or New Mexico arrived without human influence? The following evidence suggests such an assumption is untrustworthy and unscientific.

During the late 1950’s Bob Housholder was an avid and well-known hunter as well as  writer and editor for Arizona Wildlife Sportsman magazine. He published several articles about jaguars seen, rumored to have been seen, and/or killed in Arizona. In 1966 he compiled an unpublished list of jaguars either historically seen or rumored to have been seen in Arizona. This list was obtained by the Pima Center for Conservation Education via Freedom of Information Act request to the Coronado District of the United States Forest Service.

In late September of 1963,  Terry Penrod and a friend went out for a day of predator calling in the mountains high above Big Lake. They did not have a guide. At the unlikely altitude of 9,000 feet in the unlikely habitat of spruce-pine forest, however, a very young female jaguar surprisingly stepped into view and Mr. Penrod shot her.

Within the previous five years, at least three successful jaguar hunts had occurred in southern Arizona. All three jaguars were killed by well-known hunters, including Jack Herter, the 14-year old son of the owner of a nationally famous sporting goods outlet. All three hunts also were coincidentally led by the same professional guide. This was unheard of in the past. As it turned out, and as he admitted much later, the guide had imported the jaguars and held them in cages for an employee to release just down the trail and out of sight of his unwitting clients.  As it turned out, this was how he was able to back up his guarantee of a successful hunt.

Bob Housholder’s unpublished 1966 paper indicates the authorities believed the jaguar killed at Big Lake also had been imported. Householder made note of her “well-worn teeth” implying  she may have attempted to bite through a steel cage. This was a small, very young jaguar weighing only 105 pounds. Housholder (1966) stated, “This cat was probably released in front of a hunter and got away – teeth were worn.” This opinion was corroborated in 2010 by the expert opinion of the aforementioned jaguar hunting guide. He opined that she and another jaguar killed in the unlikely habitat of January snow on the Mogollon Rim a few months later, “had a lot of help getting there.”

The jaguar Terry Penrod killed was not the only historical Arizona-New Mexico jaguar noted for its “well-worn teeth.” Such was also documented to describe the male jaguar that was stated to be “in fine pelage” when it was killed in early 1908 by the Hopi Indians near the railroad tracks just four miles south of the train depot at Grand Canyon Village, hundreds of miles north of normal jaguar range and in very cold conditions.

Another jaguar with “well-worn teeth” was likewise taken hundreds of miles north of normal jaguar range and, like the Penrod jaguar, in the alleged “habitat” found at the extreme altitude of 9,000 feet. This jaguar, killed by Mrs. Manning in August 1902, 12 miles northwest of Datil, New Mexico also demonstrated possible previous human-habitutation, that is, the fearlessness that a wild animal shows towards humans if it was previously kept in captivity. This jaguar had killed “17 calves near the house” according to Vernon Bailey in Mammals of New Mexico (1931).

Lion hunter Warner Glenn photographed a  jaguar  in 2006 ( coincidentally the same year the controversial Secure Fence Act of 2006 was signed into law). Glenn’s photos show dental weathering that led experts to estimate its age as 8-9 years old and its weight to be about 200 pounds. Normally, jaguars in the wild live to be about 11.

In contrast, the jaguar documented by Shufeldt (1921) to have been killed in March of 1902 in the Rincon Mountains, had near-perfect teeth despite being a “very fat” jaguar measuring seven feet six inches from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail.