Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Rare ocelot sighted in Southern Arizona

Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at 10:05 AM

An ocelot, one of the rarest big cats on this side of the world, wandered near a home in Southern Arizona's Huachuca Mountains Tuesday and sought temporary refuge in a tree to avoid a barking dog.

The cat was unhurt, the Arizona Game and Fish Department reported, and finally climbed down from the tree after a state wildlife officer had it photographed and recorded the sighting. (The photo  above is the actual ocelot,  taken by photographer  Tony Battiste..)

Ocelots are small- to medium-sized cats, with dark spots and a long, curling tail that helps them climb trees. They have been protected by the federal Endangered Species Act since 1982, but they live mainly in the lowlands of Mexico and Central and South America.

Tuesday's sighting is significant because ocelots are almost never seen in Arizona. An ocelot was killed by a car near Globe last April, but questions arose about whether it was a cat kept captive by someone in the area.

The Sky Island Alliance reported photographing an ocelot in 2009, but wildlife officials could not verify the details of the cat in the picture.

A man was working in his yard in the Huachuca Mountains on Tuesday when he saw his dog barking at what appeared to be a big cat, game and fish officials said. The cat climbed a tree and, at that point, the man got a closer look. He called the Game and Fish department.

The game and fish officer inspected the cat as closely as he could and confirmed it was an ocelot. The officer saw no injuries and no evidence that the dog and ocelot had interacted, the agency said. The officer took pictures, collected scat samples and then cleared the area until the ocelot could climb down and leave.

State and federal wildlife officials will study the pictures and the location to determine whether the ocelot lives in the wild or escaped captivity.

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