Newest Arizona jaguar named by members of Tohono O’odham Nation

May 10, 2024, 2:00 PM

PHOENIX — The most recent wild jaguar spotted entering into Arizona from Mexico was recently named by members of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Students, elders and tribal members voted to name the jaguar O:ṣhad Ñu:kudam (pronounced OH-shahd NOO-KOO-dum), which means “Jaguar Protector” in the O’odham language.

“As a Tohono O’odham student, I am honored to vote alongside my community for an O’odham name for the newest wild jaguar here in our traditional lands,” Cedric Lewis, a 12th grade student at Tohono O’odham High School, said in a press release.

“It reminds me of the important role jaguars play in our ecosystem and their cultural significance for the Tohono O’odham Nation. Using our language to describe such a special animal shows respect for the traditional knowledge and connection the Tohono O’odham have with the land and animals.”

The jaguar’s journey into southern Arizona

O:ṣhad embarked on his journey to Arizona from northern Mexico in early 2023, leaving behind his mother.

Remote cameras have captured images of the jaguar on at least twelve occasions from early 2023 through February 2024. The cameras were deployed by researchers, conservationists, hunters, hobbyists and the U.S. Border Patrol.

O:ṣhad is the fourth jaguar since 2015 to live in and around O’odham lands north of Mexico. The other jaguars are El Jefe, Yo’oko Nahsuareo and Sombra. Unfortunately, Yo’oko was photographed dead in Mexico in 2018.

Sky Island Mountains on and around the native territory have always been home to wild jaguars.

“As O’odham, we view jaguars as protectors of our people and the environment. O:ṣhad Ñu:kudam’s presence serves as a powerful testament to the resilience of nature and the importance of ongoing conservation efforts,” Chairman Austin Nunez of the San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation said in the release.

“We are committed to working to ensure a safe and thriving future for O:ṣhad, and one day hope to see the return of a breeding population of jaguars to this region.”

Here’s how the name ‘O:ṣhad Ñu:kudam’ was picked

Students from the Tohono O’odham High School, as well as other tribal schools and community members initially suggested the names.

The suggestions were then translated into O’odham with help from relatives and through follow-up meetings with tribal elders.

After the suggestions were made, tribal elders narrowed down the list of names to 10. The names were then verified by Tohono O’odham linguists, with support from tribal council members, before finalization.

“Naming O:ṣhad continues the Tohono O’odham’s deep history of regional land stewardship for which we’re deeply grateful,” Russ McSpadden, Southwest conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in the release.

“These mighty cats once roamed all the way northward to the Grand Canyon. They’re vital to the web of life in the region and they keep coming back because they belong here. O:ṣhad’s story should inspire us to restore a thriving population of jaguars across their native habitat.”

Of the 1,000 people who participated in voting, over 99% of respondents identified themselves as Tohono O’odham or Native American.

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Newest Arizona jaguar named by members of Tohono O’odham Nation