In a Feb. 10 Arizona Daily Star article on the discovery of an ocelot that week in the Huachuca Mountains, the State Game and Fish Department said it had not been able to verify that a November 2009 photo that the conservation group Sky Island Alliance said was of an ocelot was indeed of an ocelot.
But now, after a federal official said that photo was "100 percent" likely to have been of an ocelot, a Game and Fish spokesman says "we concur" that the photo was most likely of an ocelot. Department spokesman Jim Paxon said on Feb. 10, after the Star article was published, that the department's concerns are about the photo's timing and location -- not the cat's identity.
The day the ocelot article appeared, the Star contacted U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official Brady McGee, who had seen the Sky Island Alliance photo last year as he worked to prepare a draft recovery plan for the ocelot last. An endangered species, the ocelot has been seen recently only in Texas and Arizona in this country, although it is much more common south of the border.
McGee said he thought it is "100 percent likely" that the photo was of an ocelot. The photo is blurry, but McGee said the animal had the stripes, long tail and coloration of the endangered cat.
It also was about the size of an ocelot, he said: "bigger than a house cat, not quite as big as a full-grown bobcat."
Another wild cat expert, Northern Arizona University biologist Paul Beier, after looking at the Sky Island photo today (Thursday), said, :The CoChise photo is blurred, but it certainly looks like more like an ocelot than any other animal I can think of."
Sky Island Alliance has said that the Nov. 2009 ocelot was photographed in a remote camera of theirs in Cochise County. That's the same county where the new ocelot was seen and photographed this week.
"Yes, we concur with Brady McGee of FWS that the photo is most likely an ocelot," Paxon said.
The Game and Fish statement in Thursday's Star about the Sky Island ocelot came from a department press release two days earlier, that said, ". . .
Paxon said that statement should have been modified and said the department doesn't have an issue with the photo "as far as the photo goes."
"We have a process for confirming sightings, they include going to the site, looking at the trail camera to determine that it's obvious a photo was taken here," Paxon said in an interview.
Typically, the department also wants to use DNA, blood, scat and/or hair samples to confirm a sighting location. It has asked Sky Island Alliance for that information but has never received it, he said.
"Their folks and our folks have never gone out together to confirm that that sighting took place then and there," Paxon said. "We would do that with a rancher, a hiker, a birder, another land management agency official -- just like we sent our wildlife management supervisor Brad Fulk to the Huachuca Mountains this week to confirm that latest ocelot."
Alliance Director Melanie Emerson declined comment on Paxon's statement.