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Of Jaguars, Sky Islands, and Us

Leslie Ann Epperson
Leslie Ann Epperson

In Arizona mountains just north of the Mexico border, jaguars, once believed to be killed off in the state, have appeared on camera traps, much to the delight of locals. But though many welcome the rare cats' return, they are gravely threatened by a proposed open-pit copper mine, and the peril of a new, impenetrable wall.

The premise underlying this project is the firm belief that we humans receive essential spiritual sustenance whenever we encounter life’s unfettered, improbable tenacity. Thought to be extirpated by the 1960’s, jaguars have returned to Arizona, making their way across the border from Northern Mexico into Southern Arizona. You can spot one jaguar’s territory from downtown Tucson. This jaguar, named El Jefe by Tucson schoolchildren, swept the world stage when a video compilation of the big cat was released in 2016, reaching millions of viewers and generating global broadcasts. El Jefe’s appearance in Arizona and his rapid rise to stardom provides the springboard for an examination of our psychologically fractured relationship with wild animals and natural places, and our profound need to heal these wounds.

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