Endangered Ocelot Killed After Being Struck By Car On Sonoran Highway
Medium-size and spotted, ocelots are considered endangered on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, which is the northern limit of the tropical cat’s range.
Last week, an ocelot died in neighboring Sonora, Mexico, after being hit by a car on a federal highway that crosses a natural protected area.
The cat's death is evidence that barriers like roads, and the border wall, pose a serious threat to the feline on both sides of the border, said biologist Mirna Manteca, a road ecologist with nonprofit Wildlands Network's Mexico program.
“This is a clear sign that our landscapes are fragmented and our ecosystems are disconnected, and there really is a lot, a lot of work we need to do," she said.
Earlier this year, the discovery of a breeding population of ocelots just south of the Arizona border was heralded as good news for the cat. And it’s a reminder that the handful of ocelots spotted in Arizona in recent years are likely coming across the border from Sonora.
"What we know right now is that reproductive populations of ocelots are in Sonora and those juveniles are dispersing north. So, in order to have health populations of ocelots in Arizona, it's important to conserve the populations in Sonora. And the ecological barriers are not just roads and highways, but the actual border wall itself."
She added that there is still a gap of information around ocelots in Sonora, though they know it shares habitat with the larger, "more charismatic" and more frequently studied jaguar.
"We do know, it's not the first ocelot that's been hit and killed in this region," Manteca added, calling it a tragedy that doesn't have to be in vain. "It gives us a very good idea of where our critical areas are, and where we should be focusing our efforts and who we should be working with."
Wildlands Network has had success pushing for wildlife crossings on Sonoran highways. Last October Sonoran Congress members unanimously approved an initiative requiring wildlife crossing to be included in regional planning ordinances that apply to all new state and federal road-building projects.But it will take time for the measure to be fully implemented.
For now, Manteca said it's important for people to understand that species like ocelots are being affected by human infrastructure, "and we need to work to connect our landscapes."