Jaguar Makes First Public Appearance at Phoenix Zoo Since Dental Surgery

Lucero, a captured American jaguar, made his debut at the Phoenix Zoo over the weekend -- his first public appearance since two local dentists fixed his teeth.

Picture: Courtesy of Phoenix Zoo

The poor kitty was captured by a callous Mexican rancher in 2006 and kept in a small cage for 10 months, where he ruined his choppers trying to bust out. Authorities seized the animal in January 2007, according to the Arizona Republic in the above-linked article, but he suffered with pain in a Third-World zoo until coming to Arizona.

Lauren Strait, spokeswoman for the Phoenix Zoo, tells New Times that Mexican authorities negotiated a deal in which Lucero would receive free dental work in return for a year's stay at the Phoenix Zoo. Local veterinary dental specialist Chris Visser (left) performed the work at no charge, assisted by his son, Valley dentist Louis Visser.

Brightening Lucero's smile took more than a drill and a shot of nitrous oxide. The Vissers worked for six hours on the jaguar. A second surgery was required a month later that took three hours, Strait says. Lucero then began a mandatory quarantine program until last weekend.

"He's definitely in less pain," Strait says. "He's a lot less aggressive."

Jaguars used to roam all through Arizona until development wiped out their habitat. The occasional wandering male still crosses the international border into the state, as a much-touted motion-detecting camera shot proved a few years ago (right).

We spotted Lucero on Sunday afternoon as he paced restlessly inside his relatively spacious and well-furnished (for a jaguar) cage. He's an impressive animal, to be sure, with his wide jawline and paws larger than a Great Dane's.

If you like big cats, you'll want to see him before he's deported.