It all started with a jaguar's butt.
"We got cats!"
This pic of a jaguar's butt, taken by a motion-triggered camera over a decade ago, told a group of wildlife conservationists exactly where they could find jaguars.
That was the beginning of the Northern Jaguar Project, a group that now runs a 50,000-acre reserve dedicated to helping protect the big cats.
Since then, they've collected a lot of great photos of the whole animal.
Cameras continue to be really important. The group pays ranchers near the reserve in northern Mexico for photos of live jaguars — the same amount they used to be paid for a dead jaguar.
Since a jaguar's idea of a good meal is baby calf, ranchers aren't used to seeing them in a friendly way. In the past, both the U.S. and Mexican governments supported systematic extermination of jaguars by paying people for their skins.
But now, since the same jaguar can be photographed many times, a live jaguar becomes worth a heck of a lot more than a dead one. And over time, ranchers working with the NJP are learning to live with the cats and have come around to seeing the cats as part of a healthy working landscape.
The motion-triggered cameras have also captured all kinds of animal shenanigans. (Be prepared for jaguars getting it on.)
Like, since when do skunks chase foxes?
And what exactly is that mountain lion going to do with that gourd?
Clearly, these cameras are great at giving us a more intimate and personable sense of some of the wild animals in northern Mexico.
On a more serious note, the conservationists' work is incredibly important for us here in the U.S.: We pretty much no longer have jaguars.
We recently killed off one of the very last of our wild jaguars (thanks to the very people charged with protecting them). In the past, jaguars were present in one continuous population from California, Arizona, and New Mexico all the way south to Venezuela. Although the Feds recently set aside land in Arizona for jaguars, barriers like the giant steel wall we've recently built along the U.S.-Mexico border present a serious threat.
Thanks to the Northern Jaguar Project, at least some people are keeping an eye on the big picture.
The folks at NJP say that when the border wall comes down (just like the Berlin wall did), then they will have saved a healthy group of jaguars that can eventually move in and repopulate U.S. wilderness.