Jan
31
2010

What to do, what to do?

Alien, immigrant, visitor...: Whatever you want to call them, jaguars are not native to the US.
Alien, immigrant, visitor...: Whatever you want to call them, jaguars are not native to the US.Courtesy Joachim S. Mueller

I’m not sure where to put this one. On the one hand, we’ve had a long discussion on the dangers of introducing non-native species into America’s wild habitats. That was about cheetahs; this is about jaguars; but the idea (a bad one) remains the same.

OTOH, Bryan wants us to keep track of scientific decisions made by the administration, to make sure they hold to the pledge made in Obama’s inaugural address to base scientific decisions on scientific observation and data. This story could certainly go there as well.

Since I can’t make up my mind, I may as well start a new thread:

US Fish and Wildlife Service ignores scientists, takes initial steps toward introducing non-native jaguars into US.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

I'm not sure how I feel about this either, but I do think that it's really not the same as the whole cheetah thing. I was never convinced that the cheetah proposal was all that dangerous, only that it was, at best, pretty silly. As you pointed out in that discussion, today's cheetahs plain old aren't native to the Americas, and while there were species that occupied a similar ecological niche, that doesn't necessarily mean that bringing cheetahs back to this continent would make much environmental sense.

And I don't know that putting a lot of effort into reintroducing jaguars to the United States, and then protecting them, makes lots of environmental sense either—I certainly don't know enough about that ecosystem to say that their absence has thrown things off-kilter, and that their renewed presence would restore any balance. However, "reintroducing" is kind of a key word there—I think your characterization of jaguars as "non-native" isn't totally accurate. And the tag "invasive species" may really be stretching things.

But back to "non-native." Doesn't that imply a species that is only present through human intervention? Even the old EPA memo that said that jaguars shouldn't have a designated "critical habitat" in the US acknowledges that, only 100 years ago, Jaguars lived as far north as the Grand Canyon, and in "California, Arizona, New Mexico,
Texas, and possibly Louisiana." (Here's the link for that.) So they aren't like the North American cheetahs, which haven't been around this continent since the last geological epoch.

I guess one might make the argument that because jaguars don't have a significant presence in the US right now, no matter how recently they did, that they are no longer native. But I feel like that attitude—that an animal basically had its chance and lost, so nuts to it—isn't a long ways from saying that currently native species (if we're still using that definition) are having their chance right now, and if they can't cut it in a human dominated world, nuts to them. I mean, we've got to look out for number one, but we humans also have a long track record of overdoing that, and I think there are plenty of instances where, if it were possible, we'd like to go back and behave a little more respectfully towards some species. (Eh... "behave a little more respectfully" sounds awfully soft and fluffy. I'm just having a vocabulary brain fart. I mean that we've been too confident in some species' abilities to deal with our presence. Something like that.)

Then there's the "dangerous" part. Again, I just can't work up much cheetah-fear, but I wonder if jaguars are a different story. If you want to believe wikipedia, Jaguars are much less aggressive towards humans than other members of Panthera. (I mean other big cats, not the band. They're probably very aggressive towards humans.) Even so... I'd be way more freaked out about a jaguar than a cheetah. They're really pretty big, and I guess the jaguar has an incredibly powerful bite, and "prefers a killing method unique amongst cats: it pierces directly through the temporal bones of the skull between the ears of prey with its canine teeth, piercing the brain." Yowza. I don't like that.

But I don't know. I'm still not sure about how I feel when it comes to people feeling scared of animals. I think it's generally probably not as bad as our imaginations would tell us, and, you know, not acting like a big dummy while out on in nature goes a long way toward keeping you safe. (I know, I know, some might argue that introducing a potentially dangerous animal to a place where people are living could be considered the action of a big dummy. Whatevs. Potato/po-tah-to.)

In any case, the issue does kind of seem to be putting the cart before the horse (if there aren't really any jaguars in this country to protect in the first place), and, in doing so, the whole thing could be harming the endangered species act. I don't like the sound of that. But I would like to hear another perspective on the issue—that NY Times op-ed made a lot of sense to me, but there are no doubt scientists with contrasting opinions, and it'd be worthwhile learning a little more before I start acting like I'm the be all end all expert on it.

posted on Sun, 01/31/2010 - 11:25pm

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