Biologist pleads guilty to snaring rare jaguar
An Arizona biologist who illegally snared an extremely rare borderlands jaguar that later died of kidney failure, has been sentenced to five years probation and fined $1,000, authorities said on Friday.
Emil McCain, 31, a jaguar biologist and co-founder of the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project, pleaded guilty to a “prohibited take” of an endangered species in federal district court in Tucson on Friday, the United States Attorney’s Office said in a news release.
McCain was involved in a project studying jaguars, which roam over a vast area ranging from northern Argentina in the south to the rugged borderlands of Arizona and New Mexico, where they were thought to have vanished until two confirmed sightings in 1996.
Only a handful have been sighted in the United States since then, and very little is known about their habits.
He admitted to placing jaguar scat at snare sites in the Atascosa Mountains near Ruby, Arizona, in February last year in an attempt to lure and capture a male jaguar known as “Macho B” that had previously been photographed in the area. Jaguars are a protected species, and snaring animals other than mountain lions and bears is prohibited at the sites.
On February 18, 2009, the snare caught the animal, which was subsequently fitted with a tracking collar. After initially doing well, it began to show a decreased level of activity, and the cat was recaptured for medical intervention. Officials subsequently opted to euthanize it after a team of veterinarians found it had severe kidney failure.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo P. Velasco sentenced McCain to probation with the condition that he is not allowed work with any large cat or large carnivore project or study in the United States during the five-year probationary term. He was also ordered to pay a fine of $1,000.
U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke said McCain had breached trust through his actions.
“One of the state officials employed to protect our endangered wildlife instead endangered this same wildlife. The community was rightfully outraged. Public trust had been broken,” U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke said in a statement.
In recent years, concern over the well-being of the U.S. jaguar population has intensified as a program to build some 700 miles (1,120-km) of security fence along the nearly 2,000-mile (3,200-km) border with Mexico has gathered pace.
Conservationists — among them McCain, who spoke to Reuters about his work in early 2008 — feared that the fencing would prevent the powerful, solitary hunters from roaming up from Mexico.
In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would designate critical habitat for endangered jaguars in the United States and develop a jaguar recovery plan.