jaguar

Ocelots – an occasional Arizona visitor

Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) are medium-sized, spotted neotropical cats whose principal range is Central and South America. They also occur in Mexico, South Texas, and occasionally in southern Arizona.

Juvenile bobcats and mountain lions may be mistaken for ocelots because they, too, are spotted. Another spotted cat is the Margay, but it is much smaller, about the size of a house cat.

Full-grown ocelots have a head and body length of 22 to 38 inches, a tail length of 8 to 10 inches. They can weigh between 18 and 35 pounds. The smaller ocelots tend to occur in the northern part of their range. Ocelots are quite varied depending on location and there are 10 recognized subspecies.

Ocelots have a distinctive bright white spot within black on the back of their ears. Their short smooth body fur is creamy colored on the sides and back and whitish underneath. Both areas sport black spots.

According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, “Ocelots prefer dense thornscrub, live oak scrub, or riparian areas with an overstory cover.”

Ocelots hunt mainly at night, but may be seen during cloudy or rainy days. Ocelots are solitary animals that maintain territories which are scent-marked by urine spraying and forming dung piles. Males have territories up to 18 square miles. Females have territories of up to 6 square miles. Male territories can overlap several female territories. Social interaction is minimal.

Ocelots feed on a variety of small mammals and birds, as well as some reptiles, amphibians, and fish. They also take young pigs, kids, and lambs, and domestic poultry. Ocelot dens may be a cave in a rocky bluff, a hollow tree, or the densest part of a thorny thicket. Two young are born in late summer or fall. Like other young of the cat family, they are covered with a scanty growth of hair, and the eyes are closed at birth. Gestation has been estimated to last 70-80 days and captive kittens opened their eyes 15-18 days after birth. (Source)

Arizona Game & Fish Department biologists investigate and keep track of ocelot sightings in Arizona. See reports and photos: Feb 5, 2012 in Huachuca Mountains, and another report of the same incident here. Sighting in Cochise County, Dec 2, 2011.

An ocelot was photographed between April 8 and May 21, 2014 near the site of the proposed Rosemont mine in the Santa Rita Mountains according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. That sighting came two days before the U.S. Forest Service delayed its final decision on the $1.2 billion mine project, in part because of the ocelot. – Arizona Daily Star

Ocelots have been extensively hunted for their fur, kept as pets, and worshiped by ancient Central and South American cultures.

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Rosemont and some troublesome cats

In its much too long journey through the byzantine maze of environmental regulations, Rosemont Copper has endured much in its quest to permit an open pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson.

Some of the impediments to a permit involved the cats of the desert. First was the jaguar (see Jaguars and Junk Science) and now it’s the ocelot. Both cats have a similar range and habitat, and transients are seen occasionally in southern Arizona. A male ocelot was photographed in April and May of this year prompting the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to reopen study of the mine’s impact on endangered species. Arizona Game & Fish reports an ocelot was photographed in the Huachuca Mountains last February. Prior to that, however, “Only one other ocelot, an animal run over near Globe in April 2010, has been confirmed in Arizona since the mid 1960s.”

Since both jaguars and ocelots are transients, there should be no impact on the species as a whole because most jaguars and ocelots live south of the U.S. The map below shows the range of the jaguar.

Jaguar range.

Rosemont was scheduled to receive final approval from the Forest Service this month; now that has been delayed because of the new ocelot sightings. Both cats were covered in the approved Environmental Impact Statement and mitigation for the jaguar would necessarily cover the ocelot. I don’t understand why FWS considers the recent sighting significant. I also find the timing suspicious.

So, in a cynical vein, I predict that some other desert cats will miraculously appear in the Santa Rita Mountains: the jaguarundi and possibly the margay.

Jaguarundi

 

The jaguarundi is small, unspotted cat with three distinct coat colors: black, gray, and reddish. It is twice the size of an ordinary house cat with short, rounded, widely spaced ears, a long neck; long body and tail; short legs with the hind legs being longer than the front legs. Arizona Game & Fish says this cat is occasionally reported from the Chiricahua Mountains, and from the upper San Pedro River and Huachuca Mountains to the Santa Rita Mountains, and the eastern Tohono O’odham Reservation.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum had a jaguarundi on display, but when it passed the museum decided to not get another one because they no longer represented a fauna of the Sonoran Desert. ASDM says jaguarundis are the Sonoran Desert’s mystery cats. There are a number of jaguarundi sightings in Arizona each year, but a hide or skull has never been found, nor a photograph taken of one in the wild.

The jaguarundi ranges through much of South and Central America into Mexico.

Jaguarundi  range map

The Margay is similar in appearance to the ocelot, but it is smaller. Margays are adapted to live in tropical forests and hunt in trees. It can turn its ankles 180 degrees and climb down trees head first. Its range is nearly identical to that of the jaguarundi. According to FWS, the last recorded margay in the U.S. was in Texas in 1852.

Below are photos of an ocelot and a margay to show their similar appearance.

Ocelot1

Margay1

I have worked around many open pit mines and have observed wildlife seemingly undeterred. I have observed many Bighorned Sheep in and around the Silver Bell and Morenci mines. At the Tyrone mine near Silver City, New Mexico, deer often graze within the shop and office areas, and I have seen bears on the mine dumps. The Palabora mine in South Africa often had problems with elephants romping within the open pit.

Environmental regulations have their purpose, but sometimes the process becomes all important because that’s what keeps bureaucrats employed. It’s time to speed up and simplify the process so we can get to the results.

See also:
Rosemont and the Cuckoo scam
How NEPA crushes productivity

This story appeared first in the Arizona Daily Independent.

Forest Service closing in on final Rosemont report

In a meeting for press and legislators on Friday, November 16, Coronado Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch announced that the Forest Service would not be releasing its Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Rosemont copper project in December, 2012, as planned. He would not speculate on a new date for the report. The Forest Service released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement in October, 2011, and has since received more that 25,000 comments from the public according to Upchurch. Upchurch is being very cautious and thorough to make sure the Forest Service meets its responsibility according to law. At the meeting, both opponents and proponents of the mine expressed frustration on the length of the process.

To begin mining, Rosemont Copper must obtain approvals and permits from local, state, and federal agencies. Rosemont started the process in July, 2006. I commented on this bureaucratic quagmire in my post: Mining and the bureaucracy.

Upchurch attributed the delay to pending action by several agencies:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is considering listing as endangered, or imposition of critical habitat for the jaguar, ocelot and several other species. Under the Endangered Species Act, the Forest Service must complete a “section 7 consultation” with FWS before it can issue a decision. Upchurch anticipates a decision from FWS in January or February, 2013. Note that Arizona Game & Fish recommends that FWS withdraw its proposal for jaguar critical habitat (see here), because “conservation of the species is entirely reliant on activities in the jaguar’s primary habitat of Central and South America to be successful. Lands in Arizona and New Mexico make up less than one percent of the species’ historic range and are not essential to the conservation of the species.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is still considering air quality impact due to particulate matter that may be released by the mining operation. Rosemont will submit updated air quality models this month. It is anticipated that Arizona Department of Environmental Quality will issue its air quality permit in December, which will probably show that Rosemont is in compliance with all state and federal regulations.

The Forest Service must coordinate with the Corps of Engineers concerning impacts on waterways, but this is somewhat of a circular argument since the Corps of Engineers can’t issue an opinion until it sees the Forest Service’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.

There are issues with 11 Indian Tribes. The mine site is alleged to contain up to 80 cultural sites, including burial sites, that must be considered and mitigated according to the National Historic Preservation Act.

Upchurch said that the process is about 85% to 90% complete. That would seem to preclude calls for starting all over again, something which Pima County and Representative Ron Barber have been promoting. Upchurch also said that the water issues are “mostly” resolved. What remains are mitigation for possible impacts to a few nearby water wells. Upchurch sees nothing in the water issue that would preclude the Forest Service from issuing its final report.

At the meeting, one “reporter,” John Dougherty, producer of an attack documentary film against Rosemont, several times commented that Rosemont’s proposed dry stacking method for tailings would result in the largest such dry stacked tailings dump in the world. Dougherty was implying some imagined danger. However, dry stacking of tailings is a much more stable method than conventional wet tailings. It also saves and recycles water. (See my post on dry stacking here.) This is an example of one of the many spurious issues with which Rosemont and the Forest Service have to contend. Dougherty’s comments got no traction from Upchurch.

In general, Upchurch said that as they get more and more information, the information shows that the mining project will have fewer detrimental impacts than some fear or allege.

See reporter Tony Davis’ take on the meeting in the Arizona Daily Star here.

As Tony quoted me in his article: “The process to approve this mine seems endless, and many people are frustrated. ..Maybe it means the laws controlling the process need to be changed.” Indeed, much of the delay is caused by inefficiency and lack of coordination in and among federal agencies. The Rosemont saga is nearing its seventh year in bureaucratic purgatory. Meanwhile, the projected benefits for jobs and our economy remain deferred.

Arizona Game and Fish Department against critical habitat for jaguar

The Arizona Game and Fish Department, in comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), asks that FWS withdraw its proposal for establishing critical habitat for the jaguar in Arizona and New Mexico “because conservation of the species is entirely reliant on activities in the jaguar’s primary habitat of Central and South America to be successful. Lands in Arizona and New Mexico make up less than one percent of the species’ historic range and are not essential to the conservation of the species.”

Arizona Game and Fish also said in a press release:

“The Fish and Wildlife Service proposal considers jaguar occurrence from 1962 to 2011. All of the available information from that time frame and even decades before consistently indicates that Arizona does not provide habitat that is critical to jaguar conservation.”

“The sanctity of the ESA is put at risk when litigious groups misuse legal terms to gain more control of wildlife conservation and public lands. Their maneuvers undermine the true intent of the act and jeopardize the public’s support for wildlife conservation.”

“Game and Fish believes that the unwarranted designation of critical habitat for jaguars would likely result in denial of access to lands for jaguar conservation and research efforts; fewer observations of jaguars being reported; less timely sighting reports from people that do choose to report a jaguar; and, an increased likelihood of illegal activities which undermine endangered species conservation.”

This was the right decision. We have yet to see if FWS will base their ruling on science or politics.

See also:

Jaguar Listing and Habitat Designation Based on Junk Science

Proposed Jaguar habitat in Arizona and New Mexico is scientifically and legally indefensible

Jaguars versus the Rosemont mine

Proposed Jaguar habitat in Arizona and New Mexico is scientifically and legally indefensible

JaguarA new report from the Pima Natural Resource Conservation District (PNRCD) shows that the proposal by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to designate Critical Habitat for the jaguar under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is scientifically indefensible because it is based on flawed data, and it violates laws such as the Data Quality Act.

PNRCD requests that FWS withdraw its proposed rule “because habitat ‘essential’ to the conservation of the jaguar as a species does not exist in either Arizona or New Mexico under any scientifically credible definition of that term, because designation of critical habitat therein cannot possibly help save jaguars, and because the economic consequences of adding yet another layer of regulation and restriction on national security, resource production, water use, hunting and recreation during the worst recession on record since 1929 far outweigh any possibly discernible benefit to jaguars as a species that might be gained by designating critical habitat for them north of the Mexican border where they are but rarely transient…”

See report and supporting material at: http://www.sacpaaz.org/comments-on-proposed-jaguar-critical-habitat/

Some highlights:

For Critical Habitat to be established under ESA, the FWS must show that the area in question is essential to the jaguars conservation and survival as a species, not merely whether the area in question could host or has hosted individual, transient jaguars.  “Contrary to the claim of the Service in this proposed rule, recent, documented sightings of four or five individual jaguars on singular occasions, two of which occurred over a decade and a half ago, are not scientific evidence of current jaguar residency in or occupancy of the United States for purpose of critical habitat designation. Nor are these sightings scientific evidence that such brief, male-only transience represents use of habitat by jaguars essential to their collective existence or conservation as a species because the jaguar’s breeding range spans two continents, ends in northern Mexico, and the jaguar’s actual epicenter of abundance is located in South America.”

 The study shows how FWS is using opinion of so-called jaguar experts rather than hard data.  This goes counter to the requirements of ESA which states that design of Critical Habitat much be based on the best scientific data available rather than upon concepts and principles of conservation biology which rely on assumptions.

 The study examines reports of jaguar sightings in Arizona and New Mexico and shows why they do not meet the standards of scientific evidence of “essential” habitat.  The study documents that several jaguars were transported into the U.S. for the purpose of big game hunts and “seeding” a population for future hunts.  Jaguar sightings can be attributed to some of these jaguars rather than natural ranging of jaguars.

 The study also alleges that  false and mis-representative statements, published in the  2011 Arizona Game & Fish Department Jaguar Conservation Assessment, have been used by FWS to form a basis for Critical Habitat designation.

 The study shows FWS “misrepresents the distribution of jaguars within the United States by erroneously claiming that jaguars once occurred as far north as Santa Fe, New Mexico.”  PNRCD shows, however, that FWS errs in its attribution because the claim is actually based on a jaguar sighted near Santa Fe, Argentina, and not from New Mexico or the North American continent at all.

 The PNRCD study notes that “The premise that resident populations of jaguars existed in Arizona and New Mexico before 1900 is unsupported by the scientific record, and the scientific record of jaguars killed in Arizona and New Mexico after 1900 is fraught with discrepancies, inaccuracies, duplications and unreliability.”  The study also notes “that neither Padre Kino nor Juan Mateo Manje make any mention of jaguars in what is today Arizona despite their many entradas into southern Arizona conducted during the late 1600s and early 1700s, and when it is also considered that the Spanish offered no bounties on jaguars, ever, in what is today Arizona and New Mexico, respectively.”  If a natural population of jaguars  existed in Arizona in the early days, one would think that someone would have taken note.

 PNRCD provides thorough review of the historic records of jaguar occurrence for Arizona and New Mexico. As the PNRCD’s review clearly reveals, many of those records heretofore assumed by all researchers to be accurate and reliable are, in fact, both inaccurate and unreliable.  Moreover, this review found that ten fatal flaws compromise the scientific integrity of both the characterization of those records by editors, researchers and the Service to date, and, all conclusions and models of alleged suitable jaguar habitat and residency based on the use thereof.

 These ten, fatal scientific flaws are:

1) Use of inaccurate and unreliable records.

2) Reliance on the unfounded assumption that all recorded natural history of jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico began in the year 1900.

3) Reliance on and propagation of the false assumption that all sightings of jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico are of “naturally occurring” animals when many were actually of foreign origin and imported and released by humans for hunting purposes.

4) Failure to examine primary records and adequately verify cited data and literature for accuracy (an universal error).

5) Failure to present the specific dataset used in the model.

6) Failure to cite data sources or other sources for specific records.

7) Speculation that the location where a jaguar was killed, or in some cases where it was first sighted in the United States, somehow represents its preferred natural habitat.

8) Failure to acknowledge the existence of data rejected or omitted, and failure to explain why certain data was rejected or omitted when the reason is neither obvious nor apparent to the reader.

9) Failure to identify a specific jaguar in an occurrence record.

10) Failure to properly verify the data to prevent according duplicative records to the same jaguar.

 The last part of the PNRCD study shows how the FWS proposal fails to conform to the law in designating Critical Habitat for the jaguar.

See also:

Jaguar Listing and Habitat Designation Based on Junk Science

Jaguars versus the Rosemont mine

Jaguar sighted near Tucson

The press release from AZGF:

The Arizona Game and Fish Department over the weekend was able to confirm a hunter’s report of a jaguar southeast of Tucson and collect hair samples from the area for possible DNA testing.

 Game and Fish categorizes the report as a Class I-10, meaning the report is considered verifiable or highly probable, and visual or physical evidence is provided and confirmed.

   The report was initially received on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 9 a.m. from an experienced hunter using dogs to hunt mountain lions. The dogs pursued an animal the hunter ultimately deemed was a jaguar. The animal was treed approximately 15 feet up in a mesquite tree, and the hunter was able to obtain photographs and video. After photographing the jaguar, the hunter quickly left the area with his dogs and observed from a distant point. The jaguar remained treed for approximately 15 minutes and then headed south.

Based on the images, biologists believe the jaguar is an adult male that appeared in good, healthy condition and weighed approximately 200 pounds.

Biologists will compare the photos and video to images of other jaguars photographed throughout Arizona in the past. They will try to use comparisons between a jaguar’s unique spots, or “rosettes,” to determine if the animal has been identified previously.

Four of the last five confirmed jaguar sightings in Arizona have been reported by hunters, who all took responsible action to document the animal, report it to Game and Fish, and remove their dogs from the area once the animal was identified as a jaguar. These hunters have provided biologists with critical information that may not otherwise be known, information that will help increase the understanding of the species’ existence in the borderland area.

The species has been protected outside of the United States under the Endangered Species Act since 1973. That protection was extended to jaguars within the U.S. in 1997, the year after their presence in the Arizona and New Mexico borderlands was confirmed.

Jaguars once ranged from southern South America through Central America and Mexico and into the southern United States. It is believed that southern Arizona is the most northern part of the range for a population of jaguars living in Sonora, Mexico. As noted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a 2006 report, it appears there is “regular intermittent use of the borderlands area by wide-ranging males.” The report also observes that “no indication of the presence of females or cubs, indicates that physical and biological features in the U.S. may allow individual transients to survive, at least temporarily, but do not support a breeding population.”

Jaguars are the only cat in North America that roar. They prey on a variety of mammals, fish, birds and reptiles. Females breed year-round and have litters of one to four cubs that stay with their mother for nearly two years.