Jaguars in the United States: Your Questions, Answered

By Panthera

Jaguar in northern Mexico

With the recent news that a new jaguar has crossed the border from Mexico into the United States of America, scientists and citizens everywhere have reignited a conversation about the history and future of the species in the United States. Big cat lovers might scratch their heads; they might associate the United States with large carnivores like grizzly bears, mountain lions, or even wolves — but not jaguars. While there may be many questions about the situation surrounding jaguars in the U.S., Panthera is here to help. We spoke with Dr. Allison Devlin, Panthera’s Jaguar Program Deputy Director, to answer your most pressing questions about jaguars in the United States.

Jaguar staring up
One of northern mexico's jaguars.

Did jaguars always live in the United States? 

Jaguars once ranged into what is now the southern United States for thousands of years. Historical records and fossil remnants show that the species once roamed from southern California across Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Texas into Louisiana.

Why did jaguars decline in the United States? 

Jaguars declined in the United States due to a variety of factors, ranging from direct mortality due to hunting by humans to habitat loss. Coupling habitat loss with a hunting campaign sponsored by the federal government in the twentieth century, jaguar populations in the United States rapidly declined. By the mid-twentieth century, jaguars were effectively extirpated in the United States. The last known female jaguar in the country was shot in the mid-1960s.

Jaguar prowling in Mexico

How often have jaguars visited the United States since their extirpation? 

After their extirpation in the mid-1960s, only a handful of individual jaguars have been recorded in the southwestern United States. At least ten jaguars were confirmed as unique individuals. Crossing the Mexican border with Arizona and New Mexico, the individuals are most likely dispersers from the northernmost viable jaguar population located in the Sonora Jaguar Conservation Unit in Mexico. 

Do jaguars currently have breeding populations in the United States? 

Based on the latest data, jaguars do not currently have a viable wild breeding population in the United States. All the recent jaguar crossings to the United States have been males who likely dispersed from the northernmost viable jaguar population that inhabits the Sonora Jaguar Conservation Unit in Mexico. However, we still don’t know whether the most recent jaguar is a male or female!

Video file

What is the path forward for jaguars in the United States? 

Natural recolonization is the best path forward for jaguars to re-establish a viable population in the United States. Give jaguars space, protection, connectivity, habitat and a healthy prey base, and they will eventually roam once more in their historical range. However, this will be a challenge for the species going forward. It all begins with human-cat coexistence.

Jaguar in a tree in Brazil

Is the United States a hotspot for jaguar conservation? 

Though it can certainly be exciting when jaguars enter the United States, this is not yet a hotspot for jaguar conservation. At Panthera, we concentrate our jaguar work in countries like Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, Colombia and Brazil, where viable jaguar populations persist in spite of a variety of threats. 

We hope that answers all your questions! For more information on jaguars, their range-wide status and connectivity, and their threats from northern Mexico to northern Argentina, make sure to visit out jaguar species page and follow our social media accounts for the latest jaguar news. In the southern U.S., northern Mexico and across the Americas, coexistence with jaguars is possible — and it begins with your curiosity!