The recovery goal for the jaguar Panthera onca in the USA should be to restore significant presence with some reproduction, consistent with historical records. Nevertheless, the prevailing conservation strategy for the jaguar does not include restoration in peripheral range and merely seeks long-term survival of the jaguar within its existing northern range, which is almost entirely in Mexico. Broader issues are whether recovery programmes should include peripheral populations, range expansion and species representation across ecoregions. Considering jaguar history, habitat, population requirements, wildlife management and other factors in the southwestern USA, efforts to re-establish the species would have a reasonable chance of success. Recovery of the jaguar in the USA would improve prospects for the adaptation and survival of the species within its northern range, given habitat loss, conflicts with humans and climate change.