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Dog sniffs out jaguar in Santa Rita Mountains

Posted at 10:27 PM, Apr 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-05 14:30:47-04

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -  Researchers in Southern Arizona are learning new information about a jaguar living in the Santa Rita Mountains. "El Jefe" was first spotted in the mountains in 2011. He's the only known wild jaguar in the United States. 

Workers with the Center for Biological Diversity are using a local dog to sniff out the big cat and learn more about how to preserve the species. 
"We can't protect El Jefe unless we know what he needs in the environment," said Conservation CATalyst, Aletris Nelis.
To find that out, Mayke the dog goes out into the Santa Ritas looking for El Jefe's feces, aka scat.
"For a wildlife biologist scat is like black gold," said Nelis. "Because not only do we get genetic information from that jaguar, but we can also determine what that jaguar is eating and in some instances even how healthy that animal is."
Mayke has been working in the field since 2012. She sniffs out the jaguar throughout the more than 200-square-mile stretch of the mountain range, but it's not an easy job. 
"It might take months to find one single poop."
Now, they've finally collected enough scat to draw some conclusions. 
"Essentially we've compiled enough information about the jaguar over the last 3 or 4 years that now we can start to put the pieces together and tell the story about what's happening with El Jefe and what's important to him."
Mayke has undergone year's of training to sniff out the scat and differentiate it from other animals. So, we put her to the test.
Her trainer, Chris Bugbee, put a sample of El Jefe's scat in a PVC pipe and hid it in a wash. Within seconds, she was able to sniff it out.
Mayke and Chris head out to the mountains about three days a week,  searching for scat for 10 hours each day. 
"There's this whole hidden world of scent that humans aren't in-tuned to at all," said Bugbee. "We're all vision based. Their noses can really open up a whole other world for us to observe."
Researchers hope that with further studying of El Jefe's scat they can help preserve the jaguar species in the united states.
Conservationists added that by releasing video of the jaguar and informing the public about his whereabouts, they can get more people to care about the animal and help protect it. 
The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit organization. For more information, or to make a donation, click here.