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El Aribabi Conservation Ranch
Reprinted From The October - December, 2011, Rincon Group Newsletter

By Roy Emrick

An incredible environmental experiment has been going on south of the border that many of us have heard very little about. Imagine a Sonoran rancher who inherited a 10,000 acre spread of diversified habitat types, and dreamed of producing much more than cows and a generous retirement income. At his own expense, he cut the size of his herd, fenced off large riparian areas to protect them, and started to develop water stations for wildlife.

El Aribabi Conservation Ranch
Photo by Roy Emrick

On August 20 and 21, my wife and I were invited to visit the ranch along with other environmentally- oriented folks and had a most exceptional time. Up front I will tell you that I hope to inspire you to go see this wonder for yourself and meet Carlos Robles Elias, the man with the dream. He needs help in expanding his facilities. Right now there is a large villa with about a dozen comfortable rooms, a large meeting room, and airy patios. The food was delicious.

El Aribabi Conservation Ranch
Photo by Roy Emrick

So how did this happen? A few years ago Sergio Avila of Sky Island Alliance (“SIA”) approached Carlos to see if he could do some research on the land. Carlos welcomed the opportunity.

You may have seen in the news photos of a jaguar and ocelots taken by SIA’s remote camera located on the ranch. These are just the frosting on the cake. The diversity of plant and animal life is amazing. It is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Our weekend included discussions about the ranch and field trips. We were loaded into pickups and driven up over the hills to get a better view of the ranch and to see the many watering stations for wildlife. The scenery is spectacular and we were treated to a glorious sunset. We also hiked several times along the creek, looking for leopard frogs. We didn’t see any, but we did find many other aquatic creatures.

On one hike, ornithologist Eduardo Gomez heard an elegant trogon. He also works for Buenos Aires NWR and had heard masked bobwhite quail in the area. I asked the botanist if he had heard of a plant called “mala mujer.” He pointed a few feet behind me and there was a big one. There were also numerous flowering plants and bushes. Oaks and sycamores lined Cocospera Creek and as higher, drier land was reached, ocotillo, mesquite, etc. appeared. While the monsoon season in Arizona was spotty, it was very healthy here. Everything was lush and green.

El Aribabi Conservation Ranch
Photo by Roy Emrick

I hope this is enough to pique your interest in seeing El Aribabi in person. (You can Google “El Aribabi Ranch” to see their website if you want a bit more.) Carlos assured us that he has been hosting groups there without incident for the past 14 years, should you have any concerns about participating. Since I had to meet the newsletter deadline, I wasn’t able to get concrete details about trips, such as cost, duration, etc. However, I assume there would be two categories: eco-tour and work party. The former would involve hiking and driving around the ranch to see its wonders complemented by delicious meals. The work involved is helping build rock casitas to accommodate more guests.

I’m so enthusiastic about this place, I’m willing to facilitate trips for folks. If you are interested, please phone or e-mail me your contact info, the type of trip you’d like, and the length of time you’d like to spend. Tell your friends and get them to come along!

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Game and Fish Confirms Report of Jaguar in Southern Arizona

For immediate release, November 21, 2011


Mark A. Hart (520) 388-4445
Public Information Officer, Tucson

Lynda Lambert (623) 236-7203
Public Information Officer, Phoenix

TUCSON, Arizona – The Arizona Game and Fish Department over the weekend was able to confirm a hunter’s report of a jaguar southeast of Tucson and collect hair samples from the area for possible DNA testing.

Game and Fish categorizes the report as a Class I-10, meaning the report is considered verifiable or highly probable, and visual or physical evidence is provided and confirmed.

The report was initially received on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 9 a.m. from an experienced hunter using dogs to hunt mountain lions. The dogs pursued an animal the hunter ultimately deemed was a jaguar. The animal was treed approximately 15 feet up in a mesquite tree, and the hunter was able to obtain photographs and video. After photographing the jaguar, the hunter quickly left the area with his dogs and observed from a distant point. The jaguar remained treed for approximately 15 minutes and then headed south.

Based on the images, biologists believe the jaguar is an adult male that appeared in good, healthy condition and weighed approximately 200 pounds.

Biologists who have viewed the photos consider the images to be of excellent quality with considerable detail. In the future, the department hopes to compare the photos and video to images of other jaguars photographed throughout Arizona in the past. They will try to use comparisons between a jaguar’s unique spots, or “rosettes,” to determine if the animal has been identified previously.

Four of the last five confirmed jaguar sightings in Arizona have been reported by hunters, who all took responsible action to document the animal, report it to Game and Fish, and leave the area once the animal was identified as a jaguar. These hunters have provided biologists with critical information that may not otherwise be known, information that will help increase the understanding of the species’ existence in the borderland area.

The species has been protected outside of the United States under the Endangered Species Act since 1973. That protection was extended to jaguars within the U.S. in 1997, the year after their presence in the Arizona and New Mexico borderlands was confirmed.

Jaguars once ranged from southern South America through Central America and Mexico and into the southern United States. It is believed that southern Arizona is the most northern part of the range for a population of jaguars living in Sonora, Mexico. As noted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a 2006 report, it appears there is “regular intermittent use of the borderlands area by wide-ranging males.” The report also observes that “no indication of the presence of females or cubs, indicates that physical and biological features in the U.S. may allow individual transients to survive, at least temporarily, but do not support a breeding population.”

Jaguars are the only cat in North America that roar. They prey on a variety of mammals, fish, birds and reptiles. Females breed year-round and have litters of one to four cubs that stay with their mother for nearly two years.

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Pima County 2011 Tortoise Survey
(Reprinted from the July-September, 2011, Rincon Group Newsletter)

Purpose of the Tortoise Survey
Picture of a Sonoran Desert Tortoise
Photo by Dan Swann

Pima County is looking for information to improve its model of potentially suitable habitat for the Sonoran desert tortoise. We are interested in observations of live or dead tortoises. Observations will be used to refine the assumptions of the model.

If you are willing to contribute locations where you have observed a wild tortoise, please visit Arizona HerpCount ( HerpCount observations will require latitude, longitude, a photograph and a date. If you would prefer to contribute location data to Pima County directly, please email Neva Connolly at Please do not touch or harass live tortoises!

Background on the Tortoise

The Sonoran desert tortoise is widespread across many low elevation areas of Pima County where rocky outcrops, incised washes, and bajadas occur.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on December 13, 2010, that the Sonoran desert tortoise warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act, but is precluded from imminent federal protection by the need to address higher-priority species. The Sonoran desert tortoise was named a priority vulnerable species of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan because of the threats to the tortoise and mounting evidence of its decline in the region. The county has proposed to mitigate impacts to tortoise habitat under its Multi-Species Conservation Plan.

For more information about the Sonoran desert tortoise, visit these sites:

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum:
Arizona Game and Fish Turtle/Tortoise Identification:

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Become A Citizen Scientist And Report Box Turtle Observations
Through The Ornate Box Turtle Watch Project

Little is known about Arizona’s ornate box turtles, because, put simply, they are secretive and hard to find. Unfortunately, there is some evidence that suggests that Arizona’s box turtle population may be in decline, possibly a result of habitat destruction and fragmentation, and over-collection for the pet trade. In response, the Arizona Game and Fish Department closed the season on box turtles in 2005, making it illegal to collect them from the wild. The Department is now asking the public to become citizen scientists by reporting wild box turtle observations.

Gathering data on box turtles, although difficult, allows biologists to draw conclusions on the status of this species, and then develop and implement management decisions. This “citizen scientist” approach relies on valuable location data gathered from chance encounters by the people driving, hiking, birding, or working in box turtle habitat in southeastern Arizona, where the species is found. Specifically, the Department is interested in hearing about any box turtles observed in the desert grassland, desertscrub, and evergreen woodland habitats of Cochise and parts of Graham, Pima, Pinal, and Santa Cruz counties.

Box turtles are most active in the early morning and evening, or just after a rain during the summer monsoons, when they may be observed crossing roads. If you are going to be spending time in box turtle habitat, download and print off a few observation forms from so you will be ready to collect data on any box turtles you might encounter. Mail the forms, along with any photographs, to Turtles Project, Arizona Game and Fish Department, 5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85086.

The data requested will not require any handling of the turtle. You may only handle a box turtle to move it off the road, but remember, only stop on the road if it is safe for you to do so.

Audrey Owens
Wildlife Specialist, Turtles Project
Arizona Game and Fish Department
5000 W. Carefree Highway
Phoenix, AZ 85086
(623) 236-7504 phone
(623) 236-7926 fax

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Get to Know Your Border Wildlife Refuges
(Reprinted from the January-March, 2009, Rincon Group Newsletter)

By Roy Emrick, Vice Chair of the Rincon Group, President of Friends of Buenos Aires NWR

A jewel, the closest to Tucson, is Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR). It is situated on the Mexican border southwest of Tucson. It was created in 1985 to restore habitat for the endangered Masked Bobwhite Quail. Lots of folks I meet, as president of Friends of BANWR, say they’ve heard of it but have never visited. My goal here is to give you some very good reasons to go there. You can hike, bird watch, and drive along the many roads, such as Pronghorn Drive (yes, you might see some pronghorn!), through the lush grass and woodlands. The habitat restoration is benefitting many species! And on the western horizon you are treated to splendid views of Baboquivari Peak. (At the end are websites which will give you all the details, history, maps, and all you need to know for a great experience there.)

A couple of my favorite hikes can be reached from Tucson in just over an hour. The closest is the Arivaca Cienega, at the east edge of the town of Arivaca. (Go down I19 and turn west at Amado, more details on website.) If you’re a serious birdwatcher, you probably already know about it. There is an easy, level trail that wanders through the grassland around the cienega (cien aguas or 100 waters, i.e. a wetland) which has many local birds as well as hosting many migratory birds fall and spring. Not only birds, but one afternoon I came upon a bobcat in the middle of the trail. It posed long enough for me to get a photo. An interpretive center at the start gives a good orientation as do signs along the way. The Audubon society also leads Saturday morning hikes November through April. (See the BANWR web page “Events”.) There are picnic ramadas at the parking lot as well, so you can refresh yourself after a good walk.

A little over a mile to the west of Arivaca is the Arivaca Creek trail. There is a big parking lot and picnic tables, too. The trail is well marked and you can wander along the creek (which runs much of the year) under beautiful old cottonwoods. Thus, even in the summer it is not too unpleasant. Of course in the fall when the cottonwoods are in color it is spectacular. If you go far enough you come to the Mustang Trail which goes up from the creek a mile or two to Mustang Saddle. Now you are in more open country with splendid views back over the creek and valley. The trail then switchbacks up into the saddle. If you make it all the way you can head off trail and get a splendid view out over the whole Arivaca Valley.

Brown Canyon, at the base of Baboquivari Peak, has some exquisite riparian habitat which makes for great hiking. Check the website under "Events", as you need reservations to explore this part of the Refuge. There are two more fun ways to visit Brown Canyon. One is to sign up for one of the National Sierra Club annual work trips. See the Outings issue of the National Magazine. You get to spend a week in the rustic Education Center which is midway up Brown Canyon and you get out on the Refuge to help with fence and trash removal or other fun, worthwhile experiences. If you can’t devote a whole week, Friends of BANWR has scheduled some weekend events there next spring. Check Friends of for dates and topics.

The Refuge Headquarters is about 8 miles north of Sasabe, AZ on State Route 286. There is a visitor center in one of the old ranch buildings. A volunteer on duty there can show you the diorama and other exhibits, as well as a half-hour video of the Refuge features and assist you with gift shop items.

BANWR site:
The map on this site shows all of the features mentioned here and many more, including location of campsites.
Friends site:

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