Wildlife experts believe that Yo’oko, one of only a few wild jaguars known to range in the United States, is dead.
The Tucson-based Northern Jaguar Project released a photo to the Arizona Daily Star this week showing the pelt of a skinned jaguar. The group says the pelt’s markings match those of Yo’oko, a young male jaguar who had been spotted roaming the Huachuca Mountains southeast of Tucson, Arizona, in 2016 and 2017.
The group did not release specifics about how it procured the photo, saying doing so could hurt its relations with ranchers. However, it did say the picture was taken in Mexico.
Other experts also believe the dead animal picture is Yo’oko.
Both Jim DeVos of the Arizona Game and Fish Department and retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Jim Rorabaugh told the Star that the pelt markings indicate it belonged to Yo’oko. DeVos said that six Game and Fish officials analyzed the pelt photo and compared it to images of the jaguar.
Every jaguar’s coat has unique patterns, meaning that a jaguar can be individually identified by its markings, the Center for Biological Diversity explained in a statement mourning the apparent loss of Yo’oko.
Yo’oko is the Yaqui word for “jaguar” and was chosen by high school students in Tucson.
The second jaguar believed to be currently living in the U.S. is another male, Sombra ― Spanish for “shadow” ― CBD spokesman Randy Serraglio told HuffPost.
The most well-known jaguar to roam the U.S. in recent history is El Jefe, who was first spotted in 2011. Researchers caught El Jefe ― Spanish for “The Boss” ― on video in 2015, and CBD released the footage the following year.
But El Jefe’s current whereabouts are unknown.
“He disappeared in the fall of 2015,” Serraglio said in an email. No one knows for sure what happened to him, but biologists believe he may have gone south over the border to look for females, as he was in his breeding prime when he disappeared.”
Jaguars used to populate the American Southwest, but their numbers plummeted in the region over the last 150 years due to habitat loss and hunters who killed them off because they threatened livestock. The last known female jaguar in the U.S. was killed in 1963.