The Only Good Ocelot is a Live Ocelot
Just last week, the Sky Island Alliance announced that they took a photo of an ocelot with a remote camera in Cochise County. This is exciting news- the first confirmed evidence of a live ocelot in Arizona since 1964.
The very next weekend, Arizona Game and Fish officials collected the carcass of what they presume to be a wild ocelot on the side of State Route 60.
The two bits of news scream simultaneously, "we've got ocelots!!" and, "how can we protect them?" Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Arizona has a recent history with first discovering, and then (accidentally) destroying rare and endangered wild cats. This may be an opportunity to make up for it.
According to Arizona Missing Linkages, the ocelot was listed as an endangered species in 1982 in the U.S., where only two known breeding populations remain-- in southern Texas. In Texas, ocelots occur in the dense thorny chaparral of the Rio Grande Valley. The loss and fragmentation of their habitat, along with vehicle collisions appear to be the biggest threats to these little cats. Currently, the greatest known cause of direct mortality for the ocelot is roadkill.
Historically, ocelots ranged in the U.S. from Arkansas to Arizona. The last confirmed Ocelot in Arizona was taken in the Huachuca Mountains in 1964. There is dearth of data regarding ocelot occurrence and habitat usein Arizona.
If, as evidence is suggesting, ocelots are roaming the wilds of Arizona, its high time we take action not to kill them. They need connectivity throughout critical habitat to support viable populations. This requires landscape planning at a broad geographic scale. Within that habitat they need protected wildlife corridors and associated wildlife crossings along major roads. Roads are deadly to, well, virtually every species known to man including man himself. Not only do they serve as a barrier to wildlife movement, but they're a significant source of direct mortality. Imagine driving the car that killed the last ocelot. What a burden to bear. I hope this incident will help propel action to preserve wild cats.