Categorized | Imperiled Wildlife, Southwest

Ocelots in Arizona

An ocelot that was found in Arizona, after being treed by dogs

An ocelot that was treed by dogs in Arizona. Photo from Arizona Game and Fish Department

Ocelots are a rare cat found throughout Latin America and that once occurred all the way north to Arkansas.  For example, Conservation International is focused on conserving ocelots in Ecuador and elsewhere.

More recently, U.S. ocelot populations have only been thought to exist in the very southern tip of Texas.  However, the good news is that there is increasing evidence that an ocelot population also exists in southeastern Arizona.   In 2009, the Sky Island Alliance documented a cat in Cochise County, and on February 9th, 2011 another cat was sighted.  In 2010, a dead ocelot was found on the roadside in Gila County.  This week the Arizona Game and Fish Department reported another documented sighting – from a hunter’s trail camera in the Huachuca Mountains.

The question of whether these ocelot sightings represent a previously undetected breeding population in Arizona or simply sightings of lone male animals dispersing from Mexico is a common question for rare and secretive animals. The absence of data often does not reflect the absence of the species but rather the absence of a valid sampling system to find them.

We believe the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently giving too little attention to the role that suitable Arizona habitat can play in the recovery of an ocelot population in the area (and is focused on Mexico instead).  Arizona habitats may have particular value because there are large areas lacking major roads (a primary cause of ocelot mortality) and large areas of protected public land.  The two additional ocelot sightings in Arizona since the agency published its draft recovery plan give additional weight to the idea that the final recovery plan should better describe a conservation strategy for Arizona ocelots.

Ecotourism focused on ocelot is a feature of Earthwatch Institute’s programs – perhaps someday a healthy U.S. ocelot population will provide new revenues for Arizona landowners too.

This post was written by:

- who has written 17 posts on dotWild.

Tim Male is Vice President for Conservation at Defenders of Wildlife. Tim directs a number of Defenders’ conservation policy programs, including Habitat and Highways, Conservation Planning, Federal Lands, Oregon Biodiversity Partnership, and Economics.

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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.