Lawsuit seeks to protect imperiled ocelot

A predator control plan in Arizona could harm the endangered ocelot.

Ocelot | Desert Museum | Tucson |AZ | 2015-10-12at11-37-027

A predator control plan in Arizona could harm the endangered ocelot.

PHOENIX – Two environmental groups are asking a judge to block moves by a federal agency to trap and remove predators from sections of Arizona and Texas until they ensure it won’t harm the endangered ocelot.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Welfare Institute are targeting the Wildlife Damage Management Program, which now seeks to remove coyotes and bobcats when there is conflict with humans, often ranchers.

The problem, according to attorney Collette Adkins, is that the methods are “fundamentally nonselective, environmentally destructive, inherently cruel and often ineffective.’’ She particularly cites leghold traps as “inhumane.’’ And the legal papers also mention the use of poisons.

But the lawsuit does not seek to stop the practice overall. Instead it relies on the fact that, poisons and traps being “nonselective,’’ they also can trap and kill ocelots.

Adkins said the Wildlife Services division of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service did do a legally required study in 2010 and implemented measures where ocelots had been found, to help minimize the risk of them captured or killed as part of the program. That includes the area around Globe and the Whetstone Mountains.

But she said none of that has been expanded and applied to the Huachuca and Santa Rita mountains where there have been more recent sightings of the cats, only about 100 of which remain in the United States. So the lawsuit asks a federal judge to block further predator trapping in those areas “until the violations of federal law ... have been corrected to the satisfaction of this court.’’

“We’re concerned that traps that are set for other similar-sized predators like coyotes and bobcats could accidentally take ocelots if they’re placed in areas where ocelot are known to occur,’’ Adkins told Capitol Media Services. “We want the agency ... to work together with the expert wildlife agencies, (including the separate) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure that this predator-killing program is done in a way that minimizes the risk to ocelots.’’

Tara Zuardo, an attorney for the Animal Welfare Institute, had her own take on the issue.

“The ocelot population is crumbling at the feet of (APHIS) Wildlife Services’ indiscriminate and haphazard wildlife-killing activities,’’ she said in a prepared statement. “With this lawsuit, we are sending a message to Wildlife Services that its tactics should not come at the expense of the future of this critically endangered species.’’ There was no immediate response from APHIS.

According to the environmental groups ocelots, which can weigh as much as 35 pounds and stretch four feet in length including the tail, have been detected at least five times in Arizona since 2009.

That includes a road-killed animal near Globe in 2010, a treed ocelot in the Huachuca Mountains in 2011, and a male ocelot photographed in the Santa Rita Mountains in 2014.

The groups say the endangered species hunts mostly at night, targeting rabbits, birds, fish, rodents, snakes, lizards and other small- to medium-sized prey.