The Serengeti is associated with safaris. The Maasai Mara, too. But southern Arizona?
A series of recent sightings of rare wild cats in the southern part of the state has prompted considerable excitement among wildlife experts and camera-toting naturalists alike. Twice this year, the Arizona Game and Fish Department has announced sightings in the southeast of endangered ocelots, small spotted cats with jaguarlike markings.
A third ocelot sighting reported on Friday by a homeowner who snapped some blurry photos of an odd-looking cat was probably a serval, an African cat popular in the pet trade, state officials said Saturday. The animal had long ears, long legs and appeared to have only solid spots instead of the solid spots and haloed spots on an ocelot.
On Nov. 19, it was a rare jaguar that was seen in the same part of the state — the first confirmed appearance of that elusive and endangered cat in Arizona since 2009. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the only one found in the wild in the Western Hemisphere.
Donnie Fenn, a professional guide based in Benson, Ariz., who specializes in mountain lion hunts — which are fairly common in Arizona — was taking his 10-year-old daughter out on her first lion hunt that morning when his pack of eight hounds took off in a frenzy. Before he knew it, he said, the dogs had a creature cornered in a tree, which he saw from afar with a telephoto lens was not the mountain lion he was looking for but instead an endangered jaguar…
“What’s so appealing to the general public is that jaguars are so exotic,” said Mark Hart, a spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “They are jungle cats from Central and South America, and the fact that they might be in our state really gets people’s attention. It’s a romantic notion.”
Mr. Fenn, whose Chasin’ Tail Guide Service offers five-day mountain lion hunts for $3,500, said his Web site has been barraged with hits since the jaguar sighting. And his daughter Alyson, initially disappointed that she did not get her first mountain lion kill that day, now realizes that seeing a jaguar was memorable, too.
“It was quite an experience, even if she didn’t get to kill anything,” Mr. Fenn said.
Yup. Every 10-year-old should have a chance to kill some creature or other. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a critical portion of nature’s balanced food chain, a predator like a mountain lion – some folks think hunting is all about killing whatever is legal to kill this week.
And next week? Well, someone in Arizona is as likely as not to kill themselves a jaguar.