Posted by: Loren Coleman on December 4th, 2011
Ocelots have been showing up in the Southwest USA. There is no doubt about that. But apparently officials spoke too quickly to the media about a recent incident.
This trail-cam photo was provided to the Arizona Game and Fish Department by two hunters earlier this year. The photo was taken at 9:55 p.m. on May 26, 2011. This was said to be the second sighting of an ocelot in 2011 in Arizona.
Excitement about the return of the ocelot to Arizona dates from April 2004, when Game and Fish officers collected a dead ocelot found near Globe, Arizona. The Arizona Game and Fish Department noted that on April 22, 2004, a dead, intact carcass of a cat resembling an ocelot, was obtain after it reportedly was accidentally hit and killed by a motorist on Sunday, April 18 on Highway 60 between Superior and Globe.
This year alone, the two earlier sightings have caused a great deal of hope that a breeding population of ocelots were establishing themselves in the state. Then on Friday, December 2, 2011, the third sighting was heralded for Arizona with the release of the above photo.
Arizona Game and Fish had confirmed another ocelot sighting in southeastern Arizona, they told the media. Several images and tracks found helped verify the reported sighting.
In a statement from Game and Fish, chairman Robert R. Woodhouse said the department will share the physical evidence with other ocelot experts for an independent analysis. The two earlier confirmations were in February and May, when sightings were reported in the Huachuca Mountains. It is not known if the same cat was seen in both incidents.
This latest sighting comes on the heels of the recent sighting of a jaguar last week, also in Cochise County (along with another sighting discussed on Cryptomundo here, with a photo). Recent sightings may indicate two jaguars are around.
But on December 3, 2011, the ocelot theory began to unravel. After further review, the Arizona Game and Fish Department said the reported rare sighting of an ocelot was probably another species of felid, the serval.
Serval: File Photo
Friday’s report of an ocelot was classified as “highly probable” based on the photos and the paw prints taken at the location of the sighting. The officer responding was unable to locate the animal or retrieve additional physical evidence such as hair or scat. Upon reanalysis, the serval (or a serval hybrid) was put forth as the appropriate hypothesis.
“Upon closer examination, some key identification markers make a stronger case for this being a serval, or serval hybrid rather than an ocelot,” said Eric Gardner, Nongame Branch Chief. “Although the pictures are blurry, two show that the animal has long ears, long legs, and appears to display only solid spots instead of the combination of solid spots and haloed rosettes seen on an ocelot.”
“This is a textbook example of why the Department attempts to makes such a clear distinction between a report of any rare wildlife sighting versus one with properly examined physical evidence. Positive identification by species experts or genetic analysis is required before any report is entered into our Heritage Data Management System as confirmed. It appears that this one may go down as ‘close but no cigar’” Gardner told KOLD.
Interestingly, KOLD also revealed the Department’s three-tiered classification system to rank reported sightings of “mystery animals” from the public based on the level of physical evidence available:
The presence of physical evidence such as scat, hair, tracks and/or photos and video can lead to a Class I designation of “verifiable” or “highly probable.”
A second-tier classification is one that lacks physical evidence, but is considered “probable” or “possible” because the sighting was made by an experienced or reliable observer that usually has wildlife or field experience.
The third tier classification is one that does not have sufficient physical evidence or sufficient details, or is otherwise of questionable reliability and would be considered “highly unlikely” or “rejected” as evidence for occurrence.