TUCSON, Ariz.— Students at Felizardo Valencia Middle School today announced “El Jefe” as the winning name for the only known wild jaguar in the United States, which lives just 30 miles outside of downtown Tucson. The announcement culminates a nationwide naming contest sponsored by the Center for Biological Diversity. The name is Spanish for “The Boss,” a nod to the jaguar’s place at the top of the food chain. Students at the school, which has the jaguar for its mascot, cast votes for their favorite names last month and received instruction in jaguar biology and natural history.
“It’s been a real blast to work with the school and these kids in choosing this name,” said Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate with the Center. “Their wild enthusiasm for the jaguar is infectious and inspires a lot of hope for its future.”
Other names polled well in nationwide online voting, but El Jefe was the overwhelming choice of students at the school.
“Like most people, the more these kids learned about the awesome power and majesty of the jaguar, the more pride and enthusiasm they showed,” said Serraglio. “It’s just really inspiring to feel that energy and know that they care so much about this beautiful animal.”
Although jaguars in Mexico, Central and South America are declining as well, dispersing male jaguars — most likely coming from a breeding population 130 miles south of the border — have periodically established ranges in the U.S. in recent decades. A jaguar has been photographed by trail cameras more than 100 times in the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson over the past three years. It’s the first documented jaguar in the United States since the death of the famous jaguar Macho B in 2009.
“El Jefe is truly a pioneer,” said Serraglio. “We want these kids to grow up in a world where El Jefe is not alone, not the only jaguar in the United States. If we protect the places where jaguars live, we can make that vision a reality.”
Jaguars — the third-largest cats in the world after lions and tigers — once lived throughout the American Southwest and beyond, 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 due to clearing of forests, draining of wetlands, being killed for their pelts and finally exterminated by government predator control programs to protect livestock. The last female jaguar in the country was shot by a hunter in 1963 in Arizona’s Mogollon Rim.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.