Tucson, AZ—The Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Welfare Institute today filed a notice of intent to sue the US Department of Agriculture to ensure that endangered ocelots aren’t inadvertently killed as part of its long-running program to kill coyotes, bears, bobcats and other wildlife in Arizona and Texas. The USDA’s Wildlife Services program kills tens of thousands of animals in the two states every year using traps, snares and poisons.
“Fewer than 100 of these beautiful wild cats likely remain, yet the government is putting them at even greater risk by riddling their habitat with cruel snares and traps,” said Collette Adkins, a Center attorney and biologist. “Ocelots were dragged to the brink of extinction decades ago partly because of the government’s persecution of predators. Now the few that remain face the same fate, as our government hunts down coyotes and bobcats as part of this ongoing war on predators. It has to stop before we lose them forever.
Wildlife Services is required by the Endangered Species Act to consult with the US Fish and Wildlife Service on its activities that may affect endangered species, including its predator-control activities conducted on behalf of the livestock industry. Because the wildlife-killing program operates within the range of the endangered ocelot, and due to similarities in size between ocelot and many of the targeted predators, the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010 warned in a formal biological opinion that ocelots could be harmed by Wildlife Services’ use of traps, snares and poisons (including M-44 devices that propel lethal doses of sodium cyanide into the mouths of animals lured by bait).
Since that 2010 analysis, ocelots have been spotted in several additional locations in Arizona, including the Huachuca and Santa Rita mountains. New information has also surfaced regarding Wildlife Services’ failure to comply with the 2010 biological opinion’s mandatory terms and conditions, which are intended to minimize risk to ocelots. This new information triggers a legal requirement to “reinitiate consultation” in order to take another look at the risks to ocelots and develop further mitigation measures to minimize that risk.
“Wildlife Services has been haphazardly conducting dangerous and indiscriminate wildlife-killing activities without first taking adequate steps to ensure that threatened and endangered species, such as the ocelot, aren’t harmed,” said Tara Zuardo, a wildlife attorney with the Animal Welfare Institute. “It’s time to stop cutting corners and using harmful methods, while ignoring the peril they pose to wildlife.”
To protect ocelots while the Fish and Wildlife Service completes the required analysis, the Center and the Animal Welfare Institute are seeking a halt to Wildlife Services’ animal-killing activities throughout the ocelot’s range in southern Arizona and Texas.
The graceful ocelot has a tawny coat marked by elongated brown spots with black borders. The animal can weigh as much as 35 pounds and stretch to 4 feet in length (including the tail). Ocelots seem to prefer dense cover, but can 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 will move as much 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.
Fewer than 100 ocelots likely exist in the United States. The species was protected as “endangered” in 1982 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.
The Animal Welfare Institute
The Animal Welfare Institute (awionline.org) is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere — in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild.
The Center for Biological Diversity
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.