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Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum
Canon Powershot sx10is
Ocelots are small to medium-sized spotted cats with a long tail. These cats have been listed as endangered since 1982 under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Since being listed, ocelots have only rarely been seen in Arizona. Only one other ocelot, an animal run over near Globe in April 2010, has been confirmed in Arizona since the mid 1960s. One other ocelot was reportedly captured on film by the Sky Island Alliance in November of 2009; however, it has not been possible to fully verify the species or the animal’s origin based on that photo.
Ocelots tend to be smaller in size in the more northerly portions of their habitat range than those individuals in the central or southern habitat areas. The upper body coloring is highly variable, ranging from grayish to cinnamon or tawny to reddish brown. Dark markings form chainlike streaks down the sides of the ocelot’s body. They have a long, curling, ringed tail that wraps around limbs for stability and is very indicative of the species.
The present range for ocelots is in the eastern and western lowlands of Mexico, from southern Mexico through Central America and in the lowland areas of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil. On the fringes of their range, they occupy a very limited region in both the United States (a remnant population exists in Southern Texas) and Argentina. And now Arizona can be included in that range. Other animals such as bobcats and young mountain lions are sometimes misidentified as ocelots, which is why verification is so very important.
Ocelots are protected by the Endangered Species Act and should be left alone. If anyone encounters a cat believed to be an ocelot, we would request that all sightings and photos along with observation information be reported immediately to the department at 1-800-352-0700.