Rare wild ocelot spotted near U.S.-Mexico border

WOW: Extremely rare video of wild ocelot in Arizona

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - Conservation CATalyst released a new video today of an extremely rare and wild ocelot living in the United States along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. Captured by remote sensor cameras, this extraordinary footage provides a rare glimpse of one of North America’s most elusive wild felines. This is the first ever publicly released trail camera video of an Arizona ocelot and it comes at a critical point in this cat’s conservation.

The new video shows ‘Lil Jefe’ (the boss-elot). The nickname was affectionately chosen by students at Manzo Elementary School in Tucson, traveling his home range in the mountains of southeastern Arizona. This striking cat has established residence in the U.S. and has been intermittently photographed in the region for at least five years. The video is a result of ongoing efforts to document the rich biodiversity found in Arizona’s borderlands.

Typically thought of as a tropical animal, ocelots have always had a presence in the southwestern United States with records in Arizona dating back to the 19th century. In the last decade, at least five individual ocelots have been documented in Arizona. These cats disperse from an imperiled population in Mexico and occasionally cross into the U.S. via remote mountains ranges along the southern border.

“These remarkable videos provide invaluable observations into the behaviors of the most mesmerizing and mysterious of all wild cats in America,” said Dr. Aletris Neils, executive director of Conservation CATalyst.

The ocelot’s spotted coat serves as camouflage, and each pattern is so unique they can be used to identify individuals, much like a fingerprint.

“We can tell all three video clips are from the same adult male ocelot; he is exquisite and is clearly thriving in the mountains of Arizona” explained Neils.

Sonoran ocelots have been documented breeding just 30 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border. Individuals travel back and forth across the international boundary as they move vast distances hunting, searching for mates and establishing new territories. Ocelots, like many other Neotropical species, may currently be expanding their geographic distribution northward into the United States.

“I expect to see Sonoran ocelots continue to arrive in Arizona," said Neils. “As long as we protect the integrity of their habitat and maintain connectivity with Sonora, these cats have the capacity to naturally recolonize lost territory in Arizona.”

Unfortunately, the endangered ocelot faces a multitude of conservation challenges. Aside from habitat loss, direct threats to Sonoran ocelots include poaching, poisoning, vehicular collisions and escalating disturbances along the U.S.-Mexico border, including the Trump administration’s proposed border wall expansion.

“Every new piece of information is vital for conserving northern ocelots and we are building upon these data to collectively make better decisions on how to manage these captivating and endangered cats” said Neils.

Ocelots are one of two endangered cats in Arizona. “The fact that we still have wild ocelots coming into Arizona from Mexico is awe-inspiring,” said Chris Bugbee, senior researcher at Conservation CATalyst. “We should prioritize protection of both jaguars and ocelots as they continue to disperse north from Mexico.” Bugbee added, "One of the greatest single threats to ocelot recovery in the United States is the proposed expansion of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. If there was ever a solid physical barrier that spanned the entire border, as is planned by our current administration, it would be ‘game over’ for both jaguar and ocelot recovery in this country. Such a fate is unacceptable.”

For more information on Sonoran ocelots, please visit the Conservation CATalyst website.

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