The Arizona Game and Fish Department yesterday collected a dead, intact carcass of a cat resembling an ocelot, a rare small to medium-sized cat that is listed as a federally endangered species.
The animal reportedly was accidentally hit and killed by a motorist on Sunday, April 18 on Highway 60 between Superior and Globe.
In cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Department is in the process of shipping the carcass to the Service’s national forensics laboratory located in Ashland, Oregon, where it will undergo testing to determine if the cat is actually an ocelot of wild origin.
“Currently, we have no reason to suspect that this is anything other than a wild, naturally occurring ocelot and genetic analysis should help with verification,” said Eric Gardner, the Department nongame and endangered species program lead. “Although not legal to possess in Arizona under most circumstances, ocelots are actually fairly common in the pet trade and genetic testing may help us determine its origin or if this was a captive-raised animal.”
Coincidently, The Sky Island Alliance, a Tucson-based non-governmental organization, last week announced that a volunteer citizen naturalist had retrieved an image of an ocelot from one of the Alliance’s remote cameras placed in Cochise County. The image was dated November 7, 2009. Sky Island Alliance has not yet publicly released the photo.
There have been only a handful of verified ocelot sightings backed up by specimens or photos in Arizona. The species has not been documented in Arizona since 1964 and historical records are very rare. Investigations of the occasional sightings reported since 1964 have often determined that a bobcat had been misidentified as an ocelot, despite the significant difference in tail length between the two species.
Ocelots are small to medium-sized spotted cats with a long tail. They tend to be smaller in the more northerly parts of their range than in the central or southern areas of occurrence. Their upper body coloring is highly variable ranging from grayish to cinnamon, or tawny to reddish brown, with dark markings forming chainlike streaks (generally forming black-bordered elongated spots that are more nearly stripes than spots) down the sides. Their present range is in the eastern and western lowlands of Mexico, from southern Mexico through Central America, and in the lowland areas of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. On the fringes of their range, they occupy a very limited region in both the United States (a remnant population exists in southern Texas) and Argentina.
The ocelot was listed in the U.S. as a federally endangered species in 1982.