Categorized | Imperiled Wildlife, Southwest

Recovering Ocelots, Challenges and Opportunities

Photo of an ocelot

Photo by Tom Smylie. Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Defenders recently submitted comments on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Draft Ocelot Recovery Plan (first revision).  This draft improves considerably on the original recovery plan from 1990, but we identified three main issues in need of further analysis.

The first issue is establishing population goals for recovery.  The plan focuses on recovering ocelots in northern Mexico and the southwestern U.S.  It splits ocelots from this region into two management units—one covering Arizona and Sonora, and another covering Texas and Tamaulipas—and then sets population recovery goals for each unit.  The problem is that some of these goals leave the risk of extinction surprisingly high.  For example, to meet the goal of having 200 ocelots in Texas, there can be two populations of 75 ocelots each.  Yet each population faces an 83% risk of extinction after 100 years, according to the population viability assessment (PVA) cited in the recovery plan.  These numeric goals should be higher.

The second issue is climate change.  The recovery plan gives a nod to climate change without analyzing any of its predicted impacts across the Southwest.  This omission is inexcusable, considering that climate models already predict a more arid Southwest.  Knowing that drought is one of the most important factors in ocelot reproductive success, we asked the Service to revise the recovery plan to include more information on climate change effects and responses to them.  One method is to conduct PVA simulations that incorporate the likely effects of climate change on ocelot demographics.  Another method is to consider reintroducing ocelots to other portions of their historic U.S. range, thus decreasing the vulnerability of the species to climate change.

The third issue is managing the U.S.-Mexico border.  The recovery plan is short on specific actions that will be taken to minimize the impacts of physical barriers to ocelot movement along this border, as well as border security activities.  The plan should discuss precisely how ocelots will be recovered in light of these threats.  For example, the Department of Homeland Security will fund $50 million to address impacts of the border wall on endangered species and other natural resources and has already announced the allocation of $6.8 million of this funding to wildlife projects.  The recovery plan should describe precisely how this money will be used to benefit ocelots, given that it is one of the species most endangered by border barrier construction.

Recovery planning for ocelots presents an exceptional opportunity for the Service to show how it can manage some of the most pressing threats facing this and other species.  We hope the Service seizes this opportunity.

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- who has written 19 posts on dotWild.

Ya-Wei Li is the Senior Director of Endangered Species Conservation at Defenders of Wildlife.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.