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USDA's Controversial Wildlife Services Refuses to Help Endangered Ocelot

Wildlife groups announce plans to sue to protect the rare cat from unlawful snares and traps

Additional Contacts:

Tara Zuardo, Animal Welfare Institute, 202-446-2148 or tara@awionline.org
John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center, 541-359-0990 or mellgren@westernlaw.org


Tucson, AZToday, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and WildEarth Guardians (Guardians), represented by the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC), notified the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services program of their intent to sue over the program’s failure to ensure it is not harming rare ocelots, which are listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The potentially harmful effects of Wildlife Service’s lethal wildlife management activities on the endangered ocelot trigger a requirement that the program consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The program failed to do so, violating the ESA.

“Wildlife Services is not above the law,” said Drew Kerr, carnivore advocate with WildEarth Guardians. “The law requires Wildlife Services ensure its activities do not further endanger critically imperiled wildlife like the extremely rare ocelot.”

FWS listed ocelots as endangered under the ESA in 1982. Historically, the beautiful cats inhabited southeastern Arizona and the southern Rio Grande Plain area of Texas. Although once thought extirpated from Arizona, multiple ocelot sightings occurred between 2009 and 2012. In April 2014, a remote camera detected a male ocelot in the Santa Rita Mountains, southeast of Tucson, Arizona, confirming the rare species roams the area. Ocelots are extremely vulnerable, threatened by habitat fragmentation, trapping, roads, development and capture for the pet trade.

Wildlife Services is a relatively unknown federal program of the USDA responsible for the deaths of millions of wild animals each year under the auspices of wildlife damage management. The use of lethal non-discriminate management techniques to remove carnivores in and near areas where ocelots live—including blind sets, baited and scented traps, draw stations, leg and foot snares, and M-44 cyanide capsule ejectors—puts the endangered ocelot at risk of death or injury. With as few as two ocelots in Arizona, the death or injury of just one of the cats represents a major threat to the species’ survival. In violation of federal law, Wildlife Services has never consulted with FWS about the impact of its activities in ocelot habitat in southern Arizona.

“Wildlife Services routinely fails to comply with federal laws like the Endangered Species Act,” said Tara Zuardo, wildlife attorney with AWI. “Few ocelots remain in the U.S. and they require basic protection to ensure that they are not killed by the very devices Wildlife Services indiscriminately uses on public lands to kill predators, like leghold traps and cyanide capsules.”

The fundamental purpose of the ESA is to conserve endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend for survival and recovery. The ESA requires federal agencies consult with federal wildlife biologists to ensure that their activities do not jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species or adversely modify a listed species’ critical habitat.

“It’s exciting that the ocelot, a nearly extinct species, is returning to its historic Arizona habitat. But Wildlife Services’ continued use of lethal, non-discriminate management techniques in the ocelot’s habitat runs the unacceptable risk of killing one of the few returning cats,” said John Mellgren, an attorney with WELC, who is representing the groups. “We are simply asking that Wildlife Services comply with the law and consult with the federal biologists to ensure that its activities do not pose a danger to the cats.”


 

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