How much is a jaguar worth?
Can you put a monetary figure on the worth of the last known jaguar in the U.S.? Evidently Arizona can. According to this press release, we've decided Macho B was worth exactly 8,000 dollars. This is the amount the Arizona Game and Fish Commission is fining the biologist they've pinpointed as the "central figure" in the Macho B incident,which resulted in the death of the last known jaguar in our country. The fine is punishment for taking an endangered species without a permit. It also allows the agency responsible for managing the wildlife in this great state to shirk any responsibility for the incident.
I'm struggling to grasp the very idea of assigning monetary worth to such an animal. This seems like a completely arbitrary construct. I mean, can you place a monetary value on a functioning ecosystem? On biodiversity? Clean Air? The Gulf? At the risk of sounding like a modern day credit card advertisement, I have to say it: They're priceless. While ecological integrity is something we should value enormously, it should not be treated like a commodity. Things like clean air and sustainable wildlife populations are worth more than anything money could ever buy. They're irreplaceable. You can't destroy them and then just buy a new one. When its gone, its gone.
Yet it seems easy enough for management agencies to toss out random dollar values. In fact, they've been placing dollar amounts on the heads of animals throughout history. Not long ago, they were paying bounties to hunters and trappers for the hide of nearly everything they could kill from bears, wolves, lions, coyotes, and bison, to, you guessed it- jaguars. This government-funded predator management contributed largely to the extirpation of jaguars from the United States in the early 1900s.
To stand by and watch the very agency that paid people to relentlessly hammer jaguars and all other wildcats point their finger at a single person who made an ill-fated attempt to study Arizona's last jaguar is infuriating. Neither the states nor the feds have taken any steps to prevent the demise of jaguar populations in the U.S., but rather they have a long history of expediting it. Will they be charged $8,000 per jaguar wildcat whose blood is on their hands? ....Okay, I'm not advocating for the ludicrous fines, I'm just saying if we're going to play that way, let's not forget how the jaguar reached the brink of its demise in this country. I ask that instead of focusing solely on what happened to the last jaguar, we ask what happened to the rest.
Who is responsible for the demise of the jaguar population in the U. S.? The game and fish agencies that mis-managed jaguars for over a century? Some well-meaning biologists who made a disastrous attempt to collar the last jaguar? The government that built the wall that destroyed habitat connectivity? The society that sat by and let it happen? And how much money is the demise of a population worth? Obviously the issue is complex. Maybe we should be discussing those complexities and how to address them, rather than reducing this all down to an $8,000 fine. I'd like to see all of us -biologists, game managers, and the public- accept accountability for our mistakes, learn from them, and work toward building a sustainable future for wildlife.