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Border Cats Need More Protection

Ocelot Recovery Plan Must be Bolstered to Save Rare Feline

Denver, CO Aug. 26. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today released a revised recovery plan for the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), which WildEarth Guardians reports is a step forward but may not be enough to protect the few remaining ocelots in the U.S. The Service’s plan fails to offer sufficient safeguards to shield the fewer than 50 known ocelots that remain in the U.S. by ignoring a crucial measure: designation of critical habitat. Strong legal protections are imperative given the ocelot’s harrowing existence: it is routinely forced to dodge a slew of human obstacles and activities, ranging from border walls to agriculture, construction, roads, cars, and killing.

“The ocelot is stranded on small islands of suitable habitat in a sea of hostile land uses, and the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to pull out all the stops to protect this dwindling border cat,” stated Nicole Rosmarino, Wildlife Program Director of WildEarth Guardians. “This plan needs to go further, to give the ocelot the fighting chance it needs.”

This cat recently made news when an ocelot was photographed in Arizona for the first time since 1964, according to the Service. It is not known how many of the cats exist in Arizona. In Texas, a total of fewer than 50 ocelots are known from two populations, in Cameron and Willacy counties.

The revised plan is an update on the 1990 The Listed Cats of Texas and Arizona Recovery Plan. While WildEarth Guardians maintains that an update on the 20-year old plan is necessary, it is not enough. The group points to a 2009 “Spotlight Species” plan for the ocelot, in which the Service states “the ocelot could go extinct in the U.S. under current regulatory protections.” Given the proven effectiveness in critical habitat for bringing imperiled species back from the brink, WildEarth Guardians filed a formal petition for ocelot critical habitat in January. Scientists have likewise recommended this step. The Service has not responded to the January petition, and the revised plan repeats the agency’s long-time refusal to provide this protection for the desperately imperiled animal.

“We agree with the Service on the need for more land acquisition for the ocelot and applaud those efforts. However, critical habitat designation is imperative for preventing extinction of this dwindling border cat,” stated Rosmarino.

In addition to the loss of its habitat to development and agriculture, vehicular collisions and border activities are important dangers to this wild cat. All of these threats are driven by burgeoning human populations in south Texas and adjacent Mexico. Other perils include killing by predators, including domestic dogs; increased drought and hurricanes due to climate change; genetic erosion; and agricultural pesticides and herbicides.

The ocelot is not alone in its need for better legal safeguards. Guardians is currently in court pressing for a recovery plan for the jaguarundi, which has similar habitat needs as the ocelot and is also critically imperiled. In February, the group filed a formal request for jaguarundi critical habitat, making the point that critical habitat for both border cats could be efficiently accomplished in a single rule. The Service has failed to answer that petition as well.

WildEarth Guardians is a west-wide conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring wildlife, wild rivers and wild places. Guardians filed its critical habitat petitions for the ocelot and jaguarundi during its “BioBlitz,” a series of actions taken to celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity (see here), of which WildEarth Guardians is a partner. During this year, through the United Nations, “The world is invited to take action in 2010 to safeguard the variety of life on earth: biodiversity.”


 

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