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Someone Killed And Skinned One Of The Only Two Jaguars Known To Be Roaming The US

Authorities don't have much to go on as they investigate who killed the rare, young male jaguar.

Posted on June 22, 2018, at 2:49 p.m. ET

This is Yo’oko, a young male jaguar who roamed the Huachuca Mountains in southern Arizona in 2016 and 2017.

Center for Biological Diversity

An image of Yo’oko taken from a remote camera.

The cat was one of only two known jaguars known to be roaming the US, and part of a group of three to be detected in the last three years, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

However, a photo released Thursday shows what experts identified to be a pelt with markings that match Yo'oko, meaning someone likely killed and skinned the rare cat.

Center for Biological Diversity

A photo of what experts say is the pelt of Yo’oko.

The pattern of rosettes on a jaguar is unique, which allows specific individuals to be identified.

"This tragedy is piercing," Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement Friday. "It highlights the urgency to protect jaguar habitat on both sides of the border and ensure that these rare, beautiful cats have safe places to live."

Jaguars — the third-largest cats in the world after tigers and lions — once lived throughout the Southwest, but they disappeared over the past 150 years, victims to habitat loss and predator control programs intended to protect livestock, researchers say. But they have been making minor and periodic inroads back into the Arizona region via Mexico, with seven jaguars having been confirmed in the US by photographs over the past 20 years.

Center for Biological Diversity

An image of Yo’oko from above.

The killing could have also occurred months ago, as Yo'oko had not been detected in the US since last year, Serraglio told BuzzFeed News.

An official with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, meanwhile, said there's not much investigators can do unless more information on the jaguar pelt can be corroborated.

The elusive jaguars have been spotted over the years via a series of remote trail cameras set up by federal wildlife officials and researchers.

Yo'oko had been photographed just north of the border several times in late 2016 and 2017, showing up regularly on trail cameras monitored by wildlife biologists and volunteers.

One of the most significant finds for researchers came in 2016 when a video camera captured rare footage of a large male jaguar wandering the Santa Rita Mountains just outside Tucson, Arizona. At the time, the cat — dubbed "El Jefe," or Spanish for "the boss" — was the only known jaguar to be roaming inside the US.

Watch the footage of El Jefe here:

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A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.