Hidden cameras catch wild cat travels

U. ARIZONA (US) — Snapped by automatic trail cameras, new pictures of a male jaguar and a male ocelot roaming Southern Arizona offer hints about the cats’ movements.

The Jaguar Survey and Monitoring Project, led by the University of Arizona, captured the images, in which both animals appear to be in good health.

Automatic wildlife cameras photographed this male ocelot (above) in the Huachuca Mountains on October 8 and the male jaguar (below) on a nightly walk in the Santa Rita Mountains on October 25. (Credit: USFWS/U. Arizona/DHS)


In late November, the project team downloaded photos from wildlife cameras set up as part of the research project and found new pictures of a jaguar in the Santa Rita Mountains. Three University of Arizona cameras and one Arizona Game and Fish Department camera took a total of 10 jaguar photos.

The cat’s unique spot pattern matched that of a male jaguar photographed by a hunter in the Whetstone Mountains in the fall of 2011, providing clear evidence that the big cats travel between Southern Arizona’s “sky island” mountain ranges.

“We are very pleased about these photos,” says Lisa Haynes, who manages the research project and coordinates the Wild Cat Conservation and Research Center project. “I am proud of our field team and their incredible knowledge and capacity to place these cameras in the best locations to detect jaguar and ocelot movement.”

In September, a photo showing a jaguar tail was reported by the Arizona Game and Fish Department from a hunter’s automated wildlife monitoring camera in the Santa Rita Mountains.

“None of the UA photos can be matched to this ‘tail photo’ because, in the new photos, the tail is obscured or the opposite side of the jaguar was photographed,” Haynes explains. “However, we believe the jaguar is most likely the same individual.”

In addition, a new ocelot photo was taken in the Huachuca Mountains west of Sierra Vista by one of the project cameras. Again, comparisons of the spot patterns revealed this to be the same male ocelot that has been reported by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and photographed in the Huachucas several times in 2011 and 2012.

However, the new photo was taken about 4 miles away from the previous photos, demonstrating that even the smaller cats move across the rugged Arizona landscape.

The purpose of the research project is to establish a non-invasive, hands-off system for detecting and monitoring jaguars and ocelots. The project is using motion-sensor-activated “trail” cameras placed in areas where the spotted cats are most likely to be detected. Once fully operational, up to 240 paired cameras will be in place throughout the project area to capture images of both sides of detected animals.

Science knows very little about these cats in the northern part of their range. The primary distribution of jaguars and ocelots, both known as Neotropical cats, ranges across Central and South America and Mexico. Both species occurred historically and recently in the southwestern United States, although in few numbers.

Every new data point will add to the science and body of knowledge about their distribution and ecology in the southwestern US, which is why this project is so important.

The researchers are conducting this large-scale project to detect and monitor jaguars and ocelots along the northern boundary of the US-Mexico international border, from the Baboquivari Mountains in Arizona to the southwestern “boot heel” of New Mexico.

The three-year study will be accomplished under a contract with funds provided by the US Department of Homeland Security to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The purpose of these funds is to address and mitigate environmental impacts of border-related enforcement activities.

The ocelot has been protected in the US as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1982. The jaguar was listed as endangered in the US in 1997.

Source: University of Arizona