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Tohono O'odham Nation names jaguar spotted on tribal lands in southern Arizona

Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

The fourth jaguar spotted in Arizona since 2015 had been trekking across tribal lands south of Tucson. Now, after an almost yearlong process, nearly 1,000 Tohono O’odham tribal members, from students to elders, voted online and in-person to give that iconic animal a unique name.

The votes have been tallied, and a winner decided.

“So the way it’s pronounced is O:ṣhad Ñu:kudam,” said San Xavier District Chairman Austin Nunez. “The first part of the second word, there’s a tilde on top and so, it’s that kind of pronunciation.”

Elizabeth Ortega, culture and language teacher at the San Xavier Education Center, helped provide oversight on the spelling of this name. It means “Jaguar Protector” in the O’odham language.

O:ṣhad Ñu:kudam was among a list of 10 names, and that option stood out to Nunez.

“You’re so clairvoyant,” Nunez laughed. “Yes, I voted for that, and I’m glad.”

He shared these recent and rare jaguar sightings on O’odham lands in Arizona and across the Sonoran Desert are signs that “our prayers are being answered, in terms of having the natural environment be enhanced for the new generations and those yet to come.”

The jaguar is the largest cat species in the Western Hemisphere.

These mammals, closely associated with the Southwest, once roamed the Americas, but estimates indicate they have lost at least half of their original habitats due to deforestation and urban development since the 1880s.

“The jaguar has always been certainly around us and protecting us,” added Nunez. “I’m very grateful for being given the opportunity to name a jaguar.”

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Gabriel Pietrorazio is a correspondent who reports on tribal natural resources for KJZZ.