New Jaguar Cubs Born in Riverside County Zoo

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Jaguar babies in Palm Desert | Photo: The Living Desert

We pride ourselves on hard-hitting analysis of wildlife issues here at ReWild, but sometimes a person just has to kick back and gawp over cute zoo babies... in this case, two baby jaguars born recently at The Living Desert, a popular desert-themed zoo and garden in the Coachella Valley.

The cubs were born April 26 to four-year-old mom Magia in a specially prepared, secluded den. The cubs won't be on public display for several months. First-time jaguar mothers sometimes abandon or injure their young if they're spooked, so Magia and the kids are being given all the privacy they need for the time being, attended by just two zoo staff. "We are being very cautious with this 'first time' mother and want to give her the time she needs before we allow staff near," said The Living Desert CEO Allen Monroe.

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But that doesn't mean we can't get a glimpse of the babies: The Living Desert has posted a bit of video online, along with some baby pictures.

In this minute-long video, you can see Magia trying to encourage her curious cubs to come back into the den away from the prying eyes of the Internet:

Those adorable little cubs with their utterly bitable ears will grow into adult members of the world's third-largest cat species, after tigers and lions. Jaguars, Panthera onca, are the largest cat species in the Americas, and the largest predatory mammal of any kind through most of their remaining range in South America.

These aren't the first jaguar cubs to be born in the Palm Desert area: until the late 19th century, the nearby Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains held populations of the big cats, which roamed California as far north as Monterey. Though there have been highly publicized jaguar sightings in southern Arizona in recent years, the sad story of Macho B being a prime example, many authorities consider the animal extinct in the United States.

Though the cats are faring somewhat better in the southern parts of their range, the same pressures that drove them to extinction in the U.S. are working to reduce their numbers elsewhere. Deforestation, targeting by ranchers seeking to protect their livestock, and poaching for the fur trade have pushed jaguars out of much of their range from Mexico to Argentina. Strongholds for the species remain in the Amazon Basin and the Andes, but the cats are under enough pressure that international trade in their skins is completely banned. Jaguars were listed as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1997, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated about 1,200 square miles of Southern Arizona and New Mexico as critical habitat for the cats, in case any more of them make it past the increasingly wildlife-unfriendly border.

So, reason to celebrate: two more jaguars in the world, albeit captive ones. The as-yet unnamed cubs will be weaned in around two months, and will get their first glimpses of desert zoo visitors some time after that.

Until Magia and the cubs make their way out into the public view, you can always visit their father Memo, who is not being granted visitation rights due to male jaguars' regrettable tendency toward infanticide.

Or you can gawp at the baby photos on The Living Desert's website.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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