There is a jaguar in Arizona. A jaguar. One.
This has caused a certain type of concern for some people. And a completely different type of concern for others.
And it reminds us, again, that the precious and the rare are almost always the first to be sacrificed to “progress.”
A video of the jaguar, named “El Jefe” by Tucson school children, was released last week by the Center for Biological Diversity and research partner Conservation CATalyst. The big cat was photographed last fall in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson.
He is the only jaguar known to be in the United States.
There was a time when jaguars were relatively plentiful in Arizona, living as far north as the Mogollon Rim. But not anymore. Only one remains.
The people from the Biological Diversity Center are worried that we will lose this lone survivor.
"(El Jefe's) home range is ground zero for the Rosemont Copper mine," the center’s Randy Serraglio said. "It's really going to destroy a significant part of his home."
He’s speaking of a massive copper mining project for the Santa Ritas and Coronado National Forest that is awaiting final government approval. The mining company behind it doesn't want protecting El Jefe to slow down its plans, and says its project includes a “small fraction” of the jaguar’s range.
More importantly, it represents progress. And progress always wins, even it if costs us something rare and precious.
We were reminded of this, again, just last year.
A gray wolf traveled 450 miles from Colorado, through urban deathtraps and unforgiving wilderness, to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. There used to be a large population of wolves there, but in the 1950s a kind of hysteria whipped up by the livestock lobby helped to wipe out the wolf population in the lower 48 states.
Last year’s lone wolf, who answered an ancient howl calling him back to the Grand Canyon, was shot dead by a hunter supposedly looking to collect Utah’s bounty of $50 per coyote hide.
And it sometimes comes with a cost even higher than wolves or jaguars.
In the 90s it was discovered that an 87-year-old widow was the only homeowner living on the site where the new retractable-dome baseball stadium and parking garage were to be constructed in downtown Phoenix. Her name was Beatrice Villareal.
She was a rare and precious soul.
It was not a fancy home, but when Beatrice sat at her kitchen table, praying the rosary, there were angels sitting next to her. The ghosts of relatives filled the rest of the tiny house, watching over her as she slept. She believed this.
But she could not stay there.
Her grandfather had built the home in the 1880s. In the 1990s the ground it sat on was needed for a ballpark’s parking garage.
In exchange for the home she loved Beatrice was provided with a large, ranch-style brick house in the Willow District of Phoenix. Within weeks of moving into the new house she died. The cause of death, her daughter told me, was a broken heart.
I’m not sure how many people remember her name, now.
After all, it’s a pretty cool ballpark.
The benefits of progress make us forget the price we pay.
Every once in a while, however, we are reminded of the tradeoffs.
A thriving livestock industry in exchange for wolves.
A copper mine for a jaguar.
And for a baseball stadium, one old woman.