Chris Bugbee, a member of the Lyme-Old Lyme High School Class of 1997, and his wife Aletris Neils are featured in a major news story published in the current (October) issue of The Smithsonian magazine and on Smithsonian.com at this link. The story by Richard Grant with photographs by Bill Hatcher is titled, “The Return of the Great American Jaguar,” with a sub-title, “The story of tracking a legendary feline named El Jefe through the Arizona mountains.”
Bugbee is the son of Old Lyme’s Parks and Recreation Director Don Bugbee and the Rev. Rebecca Crosby, Minister for Haitian Outreach at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme. Chris Bugbee obtained a Bachelor’s degree majoring in Biology at St. Lawrence University and a Master’s degree majoring in Interdisciplinary Ecology at the University of Florida.
The Smithsonian piece makes compelling reading and we urge you to take the time to read it.
We ran an article on Chris Bugbee and Neils on Feb. 4, 2016, which we are pleased to republish below. It includes a link to a short piece of video showing the elusive jaguar, which is now also featured in The Smithsonian piece.
Lyme-Old Lyme HS Alum Chris Bugbee Captures Video of Only Known Wild Jaguar in US
Conservation CATalyst and the Center for Biological Diversity released new video today of the only known wild jaguar currently in the United States. Captured on remote sensor cameras in the Santa Rita Mountains just outside Tucson, the dramatic footage provides a glimpse of the secretive life of one of nature’s most majestic and charismatic creatures. This is the first ever publicly released video of the jaguar, and it comes at a critical point in this cat’s conservation.
The camera project is part of ongoing efforts to monitor mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona for endangered jaguar and ocelot. Chris Bugbee, a graduate of Lyme-Old Lyme High School and now a biologist with Conservation CATalyst, has been collecting data on the Santa Rita jaguar for the past three years (formerly through the University of Arizona).
“Studying these elusive cats anywhere is extremely difficult, but following the only known individual in the U.S. is especially challenging,” said Bugbee. “We use our specially trained scat detection dog and spent three years tracking in rugged mountains, collecting data and refining camera sites; these videos represent the peak of our efforts.”
“These glimpses into his behavior offer the keys to unlocking the mysteries of these cryptic cats” said Aletris Neils, executive director of Conservation CATalyst. “We are able to determine he is an adult male jaguar, currently in prime condition. Every new piece of information is important for conserving northern jaguars and we look forward to building upon on these data so that we can collectively make better decisions on how to manage these fascinating and endangered cats.”
“Jaguars have always occurred in Arizona and yet we know so little about them in the northern portion of their range. Arizona should be poised to harbor and protect both jaguars and ocelots as they continue to disperse out from Sonora,” said Bugbee, who now lives in Tucson, Ariz.
Bugbee was featured in an article about the video of the jaguar by William Yardley titled, “He roams alone: El Jefe may be the last wild jaguar in the U.S.” and published in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, Feb. 3.
“Just knowing that this amazing cat is right out there, just 25 miles from downtown Tucson, is a big thrill,” said Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate with the Center. “El Jefe has been living more or less in our backyard for more than three years now. It’s our job to make sure that his home is protected and he can get what he needs to survive.”
El Jefe, as he has come to be known in Tucson, has been photographed repeatedly by remote sensor cameras in the Santa Ritas over the past few years. He is the only verified jaguar in the United States since Macho B was euthanized as a result of capture-related injuries in March 2009. “Jaguars are solitary cats that only tolerate each other for reproduction,” said Neils.
But a huge conflict is brewing that threatens to destroy El Jefe’s home. A Canadian mining company is pushing to develop a massive open-pit copper mine right in the middle of the big cat’s territory. The mile-wide open pit and 800-foot-high piles of toxic mine waste would permanently destroy thousands of acres of occupied, federally protected jaguar habitat where this jaguar lives.
“Clearly, the Santa Rita Mountains are a vital part of this cat’s home range,” said Bugbee. “This jaguar has been photographed in every month of the year in these mountains — there are more than 100 detections of him in the Santa Ritas since 2013 — how could anyone argue the importance of these mountains?”
“The Rosemont Mine would destroy El Jefe’s home and severely hamstring recovery of jaguars in the United States,” said Serraglio. “At ground zero for the mine is the intersection of three major wildlife corridors that are essential for jaguars moving back into the U.S. to reclaim lost territory. The Santa Rita Mountains are critically important to jaguar recovery in this country, and they must be protected.”
In October the rare cat was named “El Jefe,” which means “the boss” in Spanish, after a vote by Tucson school kids and others. The Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity has been working for decades to save jaguars in the United States, with the hope that El Jefe will soon be joined by more jaguars that wander up from Mexico. In 2014 the Center secured more than 750,000 acres of federally protected critical habitat for U.S. jaguar recovery.
Jaguars — the third-largest cats in the world after tigers and lions — once lived throughout the American Southwest, with historical reports on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the mountains of Southern California and as far east as Louisiana. Jaguars disappeared from their U.S. range over the past 150 years, primarily due to habitat loss and historic government predator control programs intended to protect the livestock industry. The last verified female jaguar in the country was shot by a hunter in 1963 in Arizona’s Mogollon Rim.
This research builds upon a three-year project (2012- 2015) from the University of Arizona surveying jaguars and ocelots throughout southern Arizona and New Mexico.
Editor’s Notes: i) The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
ii) Conservation CATalyst is a Tucson-based nonprofit organization specializing in conducting scientific research on cats that are in conflict with people.