Los Cuatro Gatos de Granados
Tom Van Devender
In May 2015, GreaterGood.org (GGO) began the Predator Conservation Program to protect predators in the Sky Islands Region in Sonora, Mexico. Together with Primero Conservation, an Arizona based nonprofit corporation, Project WILDCAT was started on five private ranches and an ejido (communal land) near Granados in the northernmost jaguar breeding population. This area is in the Río Bavispe valley just north of the Northern Jaguar Reserve and 100 miles south of the Arizona border. In November, ranchers signed conservation agreements and wildlife biologist Memo Galaz placed wildlife cameras in prime habitats in foothills thornscrub, the northernmost habitat of the New World tropics.
Many mammals are difficult to study because they are secretive, and mostly active at night. Thornscrub mammals are particularly poorly known. Project WILDCAT wildlife cameras were checked for the first time in January. Tom Van Devender and Noah Horton at GGO were very pleased with the diversity – nineteen species of mammals and four birds passed in front of the cameras in two months! The most common animals were coatimundi (cholugo in Sonora), gray fox (zorra), ocelot (tigrillo), and whitetailed deer (venado cola blanca).
Foothills thornscrub and landscape. Photos by Tom Van Devender.
Ranchers Abel Barceló and José Durazo signing predator agreement.
Photo by Ana L. ReinaG.
Whitetailed deer, gray fox, and coatimundi
One camera on Rancho el Hoyo captured images of jaguar (tigre), ocelot, bobcat (gato poche), and mountain lion (león) in 12 days all of the native wildcats (los cuatro gatos) known from Sonora and Arizona! Both ocelot and jaguar are found from Arizona and Texas to South America, and are protected in the United States and Mexico. Ocelots were seen at seven locations on six ranches. A female on Rancho Pueblo Viejo was trailed by a kitten. Observations of ocelots in oak woodland and even pineoak forest in northern Sonora and southeastern Arizona are very interesting, but not typical of the tropical habits in most of their range.
Ocelot with kitten and mountain lion.
A female jaguar was photographed on Rancho el Hoyo and the next night on Rancho Carrizal in December 2015. The two sites are only 1.6 miles apart but on different sides of the Río Bavispe. The same jaguar has been seen previously on Rancho Pueblo Viejo (6.0 miles south). In March 2015, a jaguar was photographed by CONANP (the Mexican park service) in the Sierra la Madera. Comparison of spots in the images showed that it was the same animal, which had traveled about 29 miles southward in nine months! The Sierra de la Madera is the southern end of an 85 mile mountain corridor through five Sky Island ranges in the AjoBavispe Reserve. The northernmost Sierra de los Ajos is only 17 miles south of the Arizona border. The headwaters of the Río Bavispe are in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona – another corridor. The male jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico in recent times, including El Jefe living in the Santa Rita Mountains today, likely came from the Granados region.
Female jaguar and collared peccary, its preferred prey.
Cattle ranching has been important in northeastern Sonora for 300 years, first in New Spain, and after 1821, Mexico. Unlike large areas in central Mexico, where all of the medium and large mammals disappeared as human populations increased, the fauna of northeastern Sonora is relatively intact. Los cuatro gatos have survived continuous predator control efforts. GreaterGood.org and Primero Conservation are working with local land owners to develop new management practices that will benefit cattle raising and protect the wildlife at the same time. Project WILDCAT is just beginning, but promises to be a model conservation project.