Jaguar Photographed in Arizona Is Believed to Be Dead, Officials Say

This trail camera photo shows a jaguar in the Huachuca Mountains of Southern Arizona. The jaguar is thought to have died recently. | Courtesy of Arizona Game and Fish Department

One of the only jaguars to be caught on camera in Arizona in recent years is believed to have died, conservationists and federal officials said last month.

As the Associated Press and other outlets reported, the male jaguar, which was photographed in Southern Arizona's Huachuca Mountains in 2016 and 2017, had spot patterns that match a recent photo of a jaguar pelt. The Tucson-based Northern Jaguar Project acquired a copy of the photo, and several Arizona Game and Fish Department officials believe it is the same jaguar, the AP reported.

The group did not say where it got the photo and did not know where it was taken, the AP reported.

At one point, jaguars were fairly common in the southern United States, but hunting drove the species to the brink of extinction in the U.S. There are many more jaguars in Mexico, but even there, the big cat occupies only a fraction of its historical range, especially in the country's northern areas.

Another male jaguar, known as El Jefe, is thought to be living in the Santa Rita Mountains, southeast of Tucson. After the apparent death of the other jaguar, El Jefe could be the only jaguar still living north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

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An 'outLANDish' Look at Arizona's Fossil Creek

Courtesy of Your Forests Your Future

A recent episode of a forest-themed podcast explored one of Arizona's most popular recreation destinations.

Fossil Creek was the focus of the "outLANDish" podcast, which is produced by Your Forests Your Future — a project by the U.S. Forest Service and other organizations. The project, according to its website, is "a national campaign to get Americans involved in shaping the future of their forests."

Of the Fossil Creek podcast, the group had this to say: "On this episode of outLANDish, we explore one of our nation's raddest rivers, hidden in the great Arizona desert. Fossil Creek was one of the last hideouts of the Apache, subject to power plants and dams, hosts a Shangri-La of hot springs. Tune in for the adventure on this Wild & Scenic River."

You can listen to the podcast right here, or on the Your Forests Your Future website.

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Grand Canyon Officials Offer Tips for Safe Wildlife Viewing

Chelsea Clair | Grand Canyon

As Grand Canyon National Park visitation enters its peak season, park rangers are reminding the public of the dangers of a too-close encounter with one of the park's animals.

In fact, the park said in a news release this month, Canyon rangers have had to respond to several recent interactions between humans and animals. One of those interactions resulted in "serious, but not life-threatening" injuries to a visitor, the park said.

Park officials noted that the national park lacks fences to separate people from wildlife. On the South Rim, that often means close encounters with elk, which are drawn by the presence of food and water. In spring and summer, female elk can become protective of their calves, while male elk are aggressive during the fall breeding season, the park said.

Other animals, including squirrels and ravens, can also pose a threat when they approach people in search of food. Occasionally, visitors' hands are bitten by these animals.

The park offered the following guidelines for dealing with wildlife at the Canyon:

  • Take your time. Wildlife are more active during dawn or dusk, which also has some of the best lighting for photos.
  • Follow the rule of thumb: If you can cover the entire wild animal with your thumb, you're at a safe distance. This distance is usually 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from large wildlife.
  • Use binoculars or a camera with zoom to view animals from a safe distance. To steady your shot, rest your elbows on your ribcage or knees.
  • Stay quiet and still, and on the safe side of railings. Noise and quick movements can threaten wildlife.
  • Use field guides to help you identify what you're seeing.

The park asked anyone who sees an animal acting aggressively toward people, or people approaching or harassing wildlife, to report the incident to the park's communications center by calling 928-638-7805 (or dialing 911 while in the park).

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Could Arizona's Volcanoes Erupt? Sure — but Not for a While

Sunset Crater, northeast of Flagstaff, is the most recent cinder cone in the San Francisco Volcanic Field to erupt. That was about 1,000 years ago. It's now a national monument. | Jeremy Perez

As a volcanic eruption continues to cause concern in Hawaii, some Arizonans are asking: Could it happen in our state?

But as Phoenix radio station KTAR reported this month, eruptions in Arizona probably wouldn't cause much havoc — other than an increase in tourist traffic.

A U.S. Geological Survey scientist told the radio station that Arizona's best-known volcanic field — the San Francisco Volcanic Field, near Flagstaff — has been erupting once every 5,000 to 10,000 years or so, and the last eruption was about a thousand years ago. "We don't expect another eruption to happen very soon," he said.

He added, though, that volcanology isn't an exact science, and that it's possible for volcanoes to go "off schedule." But if that happened, the volcanoes in the Flagstaff area aren't close enough to populated areas to do much damage, he said. Additionally, "this kind of eruption would be quite fun to watch," he said.

Unlike some volcanic regions, the San Francisco Volcanic Field is made up of cinder cone volcanoes, which typically do not experience explosive eruptions. The lava simply oozes out of them, similar to what's going on now with Hawaii's Kilauea volcano, the USGS expert said.

The San Francisco Peaks themselves are the remnants of a collapsed stratovolcano that did violently erupt long ago, scientists say. But the Peaks themselves now are considered extinct. 

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It's Wildfire Season: Use InciWeb to Stay Prepared

The Rattlesnake Fire burns in Eastern Arizona's White Mountains in mid-April. | Courtesy of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests

Arizona's wildfire season seemed to get an early start this year, and major blazes have already made major news. If you're planning a day trip or weekend excursion into or through Arizona's national forests, here are some tips for steering clear of fires.

Before you head out on a trip, we recommend you check the newly redesigned InciWeb, a website run by several federal agencies — including the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. The site features an interactive map where you can click on any currently burning forest fire, in Arizona or elsewhere, and get more information about it.

Each fire has its own page that includes an overview of the situation, updates about road or campsite closures, how the fire is thought to have started, what percentage of the blaze is contained, and information about any evacuations that have been ordered. For some fires, you'll also see an interactive map of the fire perimeter.

 

Each incident also has links you can use to follow the situation on Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites.

We hope you find this information helpful as you plan your vacation. And remember what Smokey Bear says: Only you can prevent forest fires — so be sure to adhere to the Leave No Trace principles of fire safety.

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Video Captures Bobcat, Rattlesnake Facing Off in Phoenix Area

A rattlesnake battles a bobcat on a Scottsdale sidewalk. | Laura Lucky via ABC 15

A real estate agent in Scottsdale recently came upon a startling sight: a bobcat doing battle with a rattlesnake on a nearby sidewalk.

As Valley news station ABC15 reported, Laura Lucky was out showing houses when she spotted the animals. In the video she shot, the bobcat paws at the snake as it tries to slither away. The snake strikes at the bobcat, but it's unclear whether it lands any bites.

Ultimately, the bobcat clamps down on the snake near its head and carries it out of view, into the desert.

Wildlife experts told the news station that bobcats are not immune to rattlesnake venom, but that it isn't unusual for the opportunistic felines to go after animals. As we recently reported, rattlesnakes are a more common sight in the Sonoran Desert this time of year, with temperatures on the rise.

You can watch the video here.

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It's Rattlesnake Season in Arizona: Here's How to Be Prepared

A rattlesnake in the Mazatzal Wilderness of Central Arizona. | Patrick Fuchs

Spring means higher temperatures, and that means more rattlesnakes are out and about in the deserts of Central and Southern Arizona.

As Doug Kreutz of the Arizona Daily Star reported last week, Arizona is home to 13 rattlesnake species. Most of those can be found in Southeastern Arizona, and they typically begin leaving their dens around this time of year. As of last week, though, only one rattlesnake bite had been reported to Tucson's Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, the Daily Star reported.

The center received about 160 reports of bites last year, but there were no fatalities reported in Arizona. On average, the center's director told Kreutz, fewer than five people in the United States die from rattlesnake bites every year.

That doesn't mean rattlers should be taken lightly, though. Here are a few tips, some of them from our Arizona Highways Hiking Guide, for avoiding a painful and potentially life-threatening bite:

  • The best place to find rattlesnakes is in thick ground vegetation — under, around and in large logs, and tucked into rock cracks. If you don't put your hands and feet in places you can't see, you probably won't be bitten. And don't count on the snake to use its rattle to warn you of its presence — baby rattlesnakes, typically born in summer, can't yet produce an audible rattle. Use a stick to bat the brush ahead of you before your feet get there.
  • At night, snakes like to sprawl on warm, flat ground and on asphalt, so use a light.
  • If you encounter a rattlesnake, take one or two steps back to get out of striking range. As a Coolidge man learned last year, you should not play with the snake.
  • If you are bitten, try to stay calm and sit still. If possible, get to a hospital quickly. If you must hike out on your own, set a moderate pace and remind yourself that this injury is not fatal.

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Arizona Elk Rounded Up for West Virginia Reintroduction

Angela Ramsey Tucker | Woods Canyon Lake

We told you last summer about a plan to send some of Arizona's elk population to West Virginia for a repopulation project there. Late last month, that project finally got underway, with 60 elk being captured and quarantined in preparation for the journey.

The elk — roughly 50 cows and 10 bulls — were captured via helicopter at the Raymond Wildlife Area east of Flagstaff, the Arizona Game and Fish Department said in a news release. After pursuing each animal in a helicopter, Game and Fish workers fired a handheld "net gun" to entangle the elk, then blindfolded and sedated it before moving it to a quarantine pen.

The elk will head to West Virginia late this month, the department said. There, they'll join a handful of elk transplanted from Kentucky in 2016.

The project is a partnership between Game and Fish and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. It's only the second time elk have been transplanted from Arizona — the first was in 2000, when the state sent 26 elk to Kentucky. That population has thrived, and today, Kentucky has between 10,000 and 15,000 elk.

Of course, Arizona's elk are themselves the product of a reintroduction effort. Their ancestors were brought here from Yellowstone National Park starting in 1913. From those few handfuls of transplants, Arizona's elk population has grown to about 45,000, Game and Fish says.

An elk subspecies native to Arizona, the Merriam's elk, was hunted to extinction by the early 1900s.

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Exotic Fish With Teeth Like Human's Found in Tucson Lake

An example of a pacu, a South American fish species known for having teeth like those of a human. | Creative Commons

An Arizona fisherman got a toothy surprise recently when he caught a fish native to South America in Tucson's Silverbell Lake.

As The Arizona Republic and other media outlets reported, Jeff Evans was fishing on the north side of the lake January 12 when he caught a pacu — a fish species known for its teeth, which are uncannily similar to those of a human.

If that seems like the stuff of nightmares ... well, we can understand, especially since pacus are related to piranhas. But pacus mostly eat plants, experts say — even though Evans told The Republic that this pacu tried to bite him a few times.

How did this pacu end up in Silverbell Lake? It likely was dumped there by someone who bought it as a pet, then released it when it grew too large, according to a spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Doing so with an invasive species can crowd out the native and stocked fish in a waterway, the department said.

The species is on Game and Fish's list of species that cannot be purchased in Arizona without a permit, but illicit purchases still occur, officials said. One Game and Fish worker said he's seen 10 to 12 pacus caught in the state over his 26-year career.

The department advised anyone in a similar predicament with a pet pacu to find another way to deal with it — such as by returning the pacu to the pet store.

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Fountain Hills Receives Rare Honor for Dark-Sky Preservation

A full moon illuminates the night sky over the Fountain Hills fountain. | Rob Mains / Courtesy of International Dark-Sky Association

The town of Fountain Hills, on the edge of the Phoenix area, is best known for its namesake 560-foot water feature. Now, it's getting worldwide recognition for something even higher in the sky.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has named Fountain Hills an International Dark Sky Community. It's the 17th city or town worldwide to receive that honor; it's also only the second such community to be located near a major metropolitan area. The IDA works to preserve areas of darkness so that stars, galaxies and other celestial wonders remain visible at night.

Scott Feierabend, the IDA's executive director, called the designation "an important moment for the movement to preserve dark skies in the American West."

A group of Fountain Hills citizens, who later formed the Fountain Hills Dark Sky Association, began pursuing the designation three years ago, partly out of concern that the advent of bright LED lights would contribute to light pollution. As a result of the group's efforts, the town's outdoor lighting and sign ordinances were updated to address new causes of light pollution.

Mayor Linda Kavanagh said the town has pursued dark-sky-friendly policies since its incorporation in 1989. Many residents attend local star parties or even maintain domed observatories in their backyards.

Arizona's other International Dark Sky Communities are Flagstaff, Sedona, the Village of Oak Creek and the Kaibab Paiute Tribe's land. The IDA also designates International Dark Sky Parks, and that list includes several sites in Arizona. In addition to Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon-Parashant, Wupatki, Sunset Crater and Walnut Canyon national monuments are on the list, as are Oracle and Kartchner Caverns state parks.

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