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Feds Agree to Study Ways to Protect Endangered Ocelot Along AZ Border

Endangered ocelots have expanded their territory in Arizona, so advocates sued to get federal agencies to study ways to avoid accidentally killing them when targeting coyotes.(Tom Smylie/USFWS)
Endangered ocelots have expanded their territory in Arizona, so advocates sued to get federal agencies to study ways to avoid accidentally killing them when targeting coyotes.(Tom Smylie/USFWS)
June 27, 2017

TUCSON, Ariz. – In a victory for conservation groups, a federal judge in Tucson has approved a settlement that forces the federal government to figure out how to avoid accidentally killing endangered ocelots.

Wildlife Services, a program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, regularly lays metal traps that snap shut on an animal's leg to deter predators that feed on farm animals.

Collette Adkins, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, says her group, alongside the Animal Welfare Institute, sued last year to try to limit these traps' use in sensitive areas.

"The devices are primarily set to benefit the agricultural interests like livestock ranchers, so they'd be targeting predators like coyotes,” she explains. “But unfortunately non-targets like bobcats and foxes have been killed by these methods, and we're just trying to make sure that no endangered ocelots are killed."

So far, no reports have surfaced of ocelots being killed this way, but there's not much room for error.

Experts estimate that there are fewer than 100 ocelots left in the U.S., mostly along the border in the desert Southwest. The elusive cats have expanded their territory in recent years, with sightings in Arizona's Huachuca and Santa Rita Mountains.

Adkins says she'd like Wildlife Services to simply stop using traps, snares and poisons in ocelot territory.

"We want to make sure that predator-killing methods like using snares or leg-hold traps are not used in areas where ocelots occur because non-target animals can be killed with these cruel and indiscriminate methods," she states.

Under the settlement approved Monday, Wildlife Services will start studying the issue this month, and by the end of the year, the agency will produce an environmental assessment that proposes alternatives to their current program.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - AZ