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Largest jaguar ever found in Arizona

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Arizona is a landlocked state in the southwestern United States, bordering Mexico to the south. It has incredible landscapes to explore as you escape your mundane life. Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff are some of the amazing cities in Arizona worth visiting.

The forests of Arizona are home to jaguars. The jaguar, also known by the scientific name Panthera onca , is a large wild cat native to the Americas. They are generally found in South and Central America, with smaller populations in Arizona and New Mexico.

Jaguars are now uncommon in North America due to human disturbance and destruction of natural habitats. There have been only a few sightings in the state since 1996.

Today, we spotted the largest jaguar ever found in Arizona. We'll also learn more about the big cat, including its sightings in Arizona and elsewhere around the world.

The forests of Arizona are home to jaguars.

©Pedro Helder Pinheiro/Shutterstock.com

Arizona's largest jaguar ever

The biggest Jaguar catch in Arizona scored an impressive 18 5/16. The jaguar, now in the National Museum of Natural History, was captured by hunter Jack Funk in 1924.

Prior to Funk's capture, Fred Ott's 1926 capture was the largest jaguar in Arizona history. This catch also belongs to the Arizona National Museum of Natural History.

The last capture owned by the University of Arizona was recorded in 1965. Hunter Lawrence McGee scored 15 6/16 for the catch.

The strongest cat - Jaguar
The biggest Jaguar catch in Arizona scored an impressive 18 5/16.

© iStock.com/Patryk_Kosmider

The world's largest Jaguar

The world's largest ever jaguar scored an impressive 18 7/16. In 1965, Hunter CJ McElroy returned home with an impressive catch from Sinaola, Mexico.

Hunting under the cover of darkness, McElroy had to acclimate himself to the predator. He had to endure extreme heat, ticks, fetid swamps, snakes and chiggers. Still, McElroy has the record to date.

Jaguar sightings in Arizona

El Jefe, which means "boss" in Spanish, is the largest adult male ever found in Arizona. In November 2015, students at Felizardo School in Valencia chose El Jefe's name in a nonprofit conservation competition called "Biodiversity Center." Several conservation groups and the media have also been using the name. But some surveillance researchers consider calling him Santa Rita Jaguar.

He was first spotted on Grindstone Mountain in November 2011. A few years later, pictures of El Jefe also appeared in the Santa Rita Mountains of Arizona.

Since 1900, only 62 jaguars have been captured in the American Southwest.

From November 2011 to 2015, El Jefe was the only Jaguar living in the United States after Macho B's death in 2009.

Depending on the range of the animal's habitat, the Santa Rita and Whetstone Mountains are nearly 50 miles apart, giving the leopard plenty of room to roam.

In September 2015, El Jefe was presumed to have returned to the closest breeding population of jaguars in Mexico. But in August 2022, a conservation group announced that a motion detection camera had been used to take his picture in Arizona.

Biggest Jaguar - Jaguar Head
El Jefe, which means "boss" in Spanish, is the largest adult male ever found in Arizona.

©Adalbert Dragon/Shutterstock.com

first sighting

Cougar hunter Dinnie Fenn and his daughter were the first to spot El Jefe in Whetstone in November 2011. The hunter's dogs chased El Jefe until he climbed a tree. Finn took a picture of him and contacted the state's wildlife officials.

A few days later, the Arizona Department of Game and Fish organized a press conference. Finn said the jaguar climbed a tree after injuring several dogs. Finn said he abandoned his dog and left the scene. Many news outlets published the photos, but video taken at the location was not available to the public.

Santa Rita Mountain exterior

The photo of El Jefe, taken via a camera trap in the Santa Rita Mountains in November 2012, is similar to the photo Fenn took a year earlier.

The cameras were also set up by the Jaguar Investigative and Surveillance Project team, an initiative led by the University of Arizona. Turns out, the identical spotting pattern on the jaguar confirmed to the researchers that it was the same adult male.

pursuit of surveillance

After the 2012 photos of El Jefe in the Santa Rita Mountains emerged, several agencies in the area released some new photos and videos.

Since then, the Wildcat Research Center, the University of Arizona Conservation Center and Conservation Catalyst have been at the forefront of jaguar research. Dog Mayke, the catalyst for the conservation group, is also monitoring El Jefe.

The Rebirth of El Jefe in Central Sonora

August 2022 The Borderlands Linkages Initiative Group, coordinated by Wildlands Networks, is doing well. The pair said they had obtained two photographs of El Jefe at an undisclosed location in central Sonora. The photos, taken in November 2022, caught the attention of US and Mexican newsrooms.

Unique Facts About Jaguars

It's no surprise that Arizona is home to desert animals like desert sheep, pronghorn, and jaguars. Even though lions and tigers are giant cats globally, jaguars can grow to gigantic sizes. The largest jaguar ever recorded weighed 328 pounds. Here are other unique facts about jaguars.

iconic pattern

Jaguars have a signature painting pattern that might confuse you with leopards, but the two species are different.


More research on jaguars is crucial because they are one of the most endangered wild animals and their numbers have been declining for years. Activities such as illegal hunting, habitat loss and reduced prey are some of the main reasons for the decline in jaguar numbers. Therefore, protecting their habitat is the only way to protect the dwindling feral cat population.

For many years, Mexican forests have been known as jaguar habitat. Also, they can be found in the southwestern part of Arizona. Forests are a favorite habitat for jaguars because they help them escape the heat. Also, they prefer to rest in large trees.

Jaguars like to be near water sources like rivers and wells in order to have a relaxing time while quenching their thirst.

Additionally, they are a solitary species that occasionally mate for short periods of time.

santa fe national forest
For many years, Mexican forests have been known as jaguar habitat.


physical properties

The large skull, claws and muscles of the jaguar are key features that make them suitable for survival in the jungle. Additionally, their golden-yellow fur is impressive and the spots are unique to each jaguar.

The markings on the jaguar's head and legs are solid, but become rosette-like patterns along its body. In rare cases, they can be covered in black fur all over.


Like other cats, jaguars are strictly carnivorous, eating only meat. However, more than 89 species of animals have been recorded as prey of jaguars, proving that jaguars are not picky eaters.

The long claws on their front paws help them catch prey. Jaguars have strong jaws and are able to kill their prey, preferably with a bite on the neck. After crushing their prey, they use their jaws to suck the prey into the nest. Jaguars rarely attack humans because they always try to avoid humans.

Big cats rely primarily on mammals for their prey, but they have also been known to eat crocodiles, caimans, and even sea turtles.

Given the opportunity, jaguars will choose to prey on deer, collared boar, and rodents if they can catch them. If the jaguar can consistently find the food it needs, it may only need to eat once or twice a week.

Conflicts have arisen between jaguars and livestock owners due to the animal's occasional attacks on cattle and other livestock.

It's not hard to tell from the jaguar's huge canine teeth and cracked physique that it is a strict carnivore, eating only meat. Extremely fast and stealthy, these hunters ambush and dismember everything from small mammals and reptiles to large fish and birds.

A young desert cottontail rabbit eats a blooming cactus in the early morning sun in the Sonoran desert. Cute bunny close up in natural habitat. Pima County, Tucson, Arizona.
Rabbits are one of the many prey items eaten by jaguars.

©Charles T. Peden/Shutterstock.com

Here are just a few of the many animals that jaguars prey on:

  • monkey
  • sea turtle
  • snake
  • Javelina Caimans (also known as wild boar)
  • fish
  • Iguana
  • birds
  • rabbit
  • the cow

Since jaguars are not picky eaters, they will quickly ambush and disable any small animal that gets close enough. Additionally, jaguars have no known predators, making them an apex predator.


There are nine subspecies of the jaguar, depending on their habitat. They include:

  • central american jaguar
  • western mexican jaguar
  • Brazilian jaguar
  • paraguayan jaguar
  • northeast jaguar
  • Yucatan peninsula jaguar
  • peruvian jaguar
  • South American Jaguar
  • Arizona Panthers


Jaguars have excellent eye tissues that allow them to see well in the dark. Therefore, they prefer to hunt at night. However, they do not sleep throughout the day; even when the sun is shining, they will still go foraging, depending on the region and food shortages.


Jaguars move at high speeds, reaching speeds of up to 80 mph. But they can only sustain the pace for short periods of time.

Jaguars move at high speeds, reaching speeds of up to 80 mph.

©Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock.com


Male jaguars are always larger than females and may grow up to nine feet. Their size is crucial as it allows them to protect themselves from predators. Female jaguars do not migrate very far from their birthplaces. Therefore, species expansion is tricky. Their male counterparts, however, roam great distances in search of mates and new territories.

El Jefe's presence in the Santa Rita Mountains raises many questions. As a result, many organizations opposed Rosemont's copper mining activities. Additionally, Vigneto's housing project has been called into question for its environmental impact and damage to jaguar habitat.

Barriers in the U.S. and Mexico since 2006 have prevented a female jaguar from possibly wanting to expand her territory from Sonora's breeding population in Mexico to Arizona. Likewise, increasing infrastructure projects in the United States are a top concern for endangered cats.

DHS building fences that violate environmental laws is also a challenge.

Mexico's Federal Highways 2 and 15 are also major obstacles to jaguar recovery in the US Since 2010, Highway 2 has been expanding from Imuris to Janos in Chihuahua.

The Wildlands Network Group has been working to preserve connectivity for large carnivores, significantly facilitating wildlife crossings on the expanded roadway. As a result, jaguars and other wild animals can roam freely.

Unfortunately, the border wall is an obstacle for jaguars to enter the United States. Therefore, mitigation measures must be taken to ensure Jaguar expansion into the United States.

Providing jaguars with a suitable habitat for roaming is an excellent way to reintroduce this nearly endangered species.

As a result, jaguars and other feral cat populations will increase. Since jaguars live in both the United States and Mexico, high-quality habitat and growing ties between the two countries are the best ways to promote their survival.

the bottom line

Several hunters in Arizona have been eager to capture a large jaguar to beat Jack Funk's 1924 capture record. However, the jaguar is an endangered species and greater conservation efforts are needed to keep them from extinction. Seeing this rare feline in Arizona is a testament to the importance of the region to felines.

Therefore, the state should be on the front line, ensuring that the natural habitat of jaguars is maintained to increase their numbers.


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