Featured image: Ocelot photo by Tom Smylie, USFWS. Fewer than 100 of these rare wildcats likely remain in the United States.
TUCSON, AZ— The Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Welfare Institute today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that endangered ocelots aren’t inadvertently killed as part of the Department’s long-running program to kill coyotes, bears, bobcats and other wildlife in Arizona and Texas. The Department’s Wildlife Services program kills tens of thousands of animals in the two states every year using traps, snares and poisons.
“All the latest science shows Wildlife Services’ predator-control program is expensive, ineffective and inhumane,” said Collette Adkins, a Center attorney and biologist. “With fewer than 100 ocelots remaining in the United States, we’re trying to ensure that none will suffer and die in traps set for bobcats, coyotes and other predators targeted by Wildlife Services.”
Wildlife Services is required by the Endangered Species Act to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on its activities that may affect endangered species, including its predator-control activities. Because Wildlife Services kills wildlife within the range of the endangered ocelot, and given the similarity in size between ocelots and many of the targeted predators, the Fish and Wildlife Service warned Wildlife Services in a 2010 “biological opinion” document that ocelots could be harmed by its use of traps, snares and poisons (including baited M-44 devices that propel lethal doses of sodium cyanide into animals’ mouths).
Since that 2010 opinion, ocelots have been spotted in several additional locations in Arizona, including the Huachuca and Santa Rita mountains. New evidence also indicates that Wildlife Services has failed to comply with the document’s mandatory terms and conditions, intended to minimize risk to ocelots. This new information requires the program to reinitiate consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service to examine risks to ocelots and develop risk-mitigation measures. The complaint also alleges that Wildlife Services must use recent science to supplement its outdated environmental analyses of its wildlife-killing program in Arizona, which were prepared in the 1990s under the National Environmental Policy Act.
“The ocelot population is crumbling at the feet of Wildlife Services’ indiscriminate and haphazard wildlife-killing activities,” said Tara Zuardo, a wildlife attorney with Animal Welfare Institute. “With this lawsuit, we are sending a message to Wildlife Services that its tactics should not come at the expense of the future of this critically endangered species.”
To protect ocelots while the Fish and Wildlife Service completes the required analysis, the groups are seeking a halt to Wildlife Services’ animal-killing activities throughout the ocelot’s range in southern Arizona and Texas.
The ocelot has a tawny coat marked by elongated brown spots with black borders. It can weigh as much as 35 pounds and stretch to 4 feet in length (including the tail). Ocelots seem to prefer dense cover but use a variety of habitats. Hunting mostly at night, they target rabbits, birds, fish, rodents, snakes, lizards and other small- to medium-sized prey.
The ocelot’s range includes Texas, Arizona, Mexico and Central and South America. Monitoring of collared individuals has shown that ocelots travel as far as 10 miles outside their home ranges. Since 2009 ocelots have been detected at least five times in Arizona, including a road-killed ocelot near Globe in 2010, a treed ocelot in the Huachuca Mountains in 2011, and a male ocelot photographed in the Santa Rita Mountains in 2014.
Since 1982 the species has been designated as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. Although never abundant, ocelots were historically killed incidentally during the hunting, trapping and poisoning of coyotes, bobcats and other predators. Habitat loss also contributed to the animal’s decline; only a fraction of the less than 5 percent of original native vegetation remaining in the lower Rio Grande Valley is optimal habitat for the cats. Now continuing habitat loss, collisions with vehicles and inbreeding resulting from small and isolated groups are keeping the wildcat’s population numbers low.
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