Jaguars, the third-largest cats after lions and tigers--and the biggest in the Western Hemisphere--used to live here. During the 18th and 19th centuries they were spotted in Arizona, New Mexico, California and Texas. Sometimes the cats roamed as far east as North Carolina and as far north as Colorado.
As humans encroached on their territory, the endangered cats' range shifted south. Today it stretches from northern Argentina into Mexico's Sonoran Desert. But jaguars cross into the American Southwest frequently enough for some conservationists to argue that they deserve critical habitat protection. Now, after years of legal wrangling, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has agreed. In a plan published yesterday, the agency proposed designating 838,232 acres--an area larger than Rhode Island--as critical jaguar habitat._