Protection of Ocelots

Protection of Ocelots - Photo from Flickr/Giorgio Quattrone

Case Name:
Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit organization; Animal Welfare Institute, a non-profit organization v. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, an administrative agency of the United States Department of Agriculture; William Clay, Deputy Administrator of APHIS-Wildlife Services; David Bergman, State Director Arizona APHIS-Wildlife Services; US Fish and Wildlife Service; Dan Ashe, Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service;

Nature of Case:
In May 2016, the Animal Welfare Institute and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the US Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program over the government’s failure to ensure that endangered ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) are not incidentally killed or harmed by the program in Arizona and Texas. Accordingly, these organizations allege violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and are seeking to ensure ocelots are not killed inadvertently, along with predators the program targets, which include coyotes, bears and bobcats. Wildlife Services exterminates wildlife through its Wildlife Damage Management program and is required to consult with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to determine whether its actions will endanger the survival of listed species or critical habitat. Wildlife Services failed its substantive duty to consult with the USFWS—a duty which arises in consequence of the program’s potentially harmful effects on the federally protected ocelot. In order to protect these endangered animals while the USFWS completes the required analysis, the Animal Welfare Institute and the Center for Biological Diversity are seeking a halt to Wildlife Services’ animal-killing activities throughout the ocelot’s range in southern Arizona and Texas.

Court:
US District Court for the District of Arizona

Plaintiffs:
Animal Welfare Institute; Center for Biological Diversity

Defendants:
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA); William Clay, Deputy Administrator of APHIS-Wildlife Services; David Bergman, State Director Arizona APHIS-Wildlife Services; US Fish and Wildlife Service; Dan Ashe, Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service

Status:

60 Day Notice Letter filed on May 26, 2016

Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief filed on October 3, 2016

 

Read more about the background of the case and check out the case media.

 

Protection of Ocelots: Background

Historically, ocelots ranged throughout the southern part of the United States, including Arizona and Texas. Today, the ocelot’s range includes Texas, Arizona, Mexico, and Central and South America. They have a tawny coat marked by elongated brown spots with black borders, and can weigh as much as thirty-five pounds and stretch to four feet in length. Fewer than 100 ocelots are believed to exist currently in the United States. In 2009, a remote camera placed by the Sky Island Alliance captured the first photograph of an ocelot in the Whetstone Mountains of Arizona since the 1960s, which was later confirmed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD).

In 1972, the USFWS first listed the ocelot as a foreign endangered species under the Endangered Species Conservation Act, the ESA’s predecessor. In 1982, the USFWS listed the US population of the ocelot as endangered under the ESA, including those found in southern Texas and southeastern Arizona.

Ocelots have historically been killed incidentally during the hunting, trapping, and poisoning of coyotes, bobcats, bears, and other predators. In addition, habitat loss has contributed to the animal’s decline; only a fraction of the less than 5 percent of original native vegetation remaining in the lower Rio Grande Valley is optimal habitat for the cats.

Because Wildlife Services operates within the range of the ocelot, the USFWS in 2010 warned, in a formal biological opinion, that ocelots could be harmed by Wildlife Services’ use of traps, snares, and poisons.The AGFD’s website identifies numerous additional ocelot sightings throughout 2011 and 2014 as well. Further, in November 2012, a remote camera set up in the Huachuca Mountains photographed a male ocelot present in the region. Most recently, a letter sent from the USFWS to the forest supervisor at Coronado National Forest regarding reinstatement of formal consultation for the Rosemont Copper Company Project Mine Plan of Operations referenced an April 2014 photograph confirming a lone male ocelot in the Santa Rita Mountains.

Wildlife Services exterminates wildlife through its Wildlife Damage Management program and is required to consult with the USFWS to determine whether its actions will endanger the survival of listed species or critical habitat. The Wildlife Services program failed its substantive duty to consult with the USFWS—a duty which arises in consequence of the program’s potentially harmful effects on the federally protected ocelot.

As a result, in the summer of 2016, the Animal Welfare Institute and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue and, on October 4, a complaint against the USDA’s Wildlife Services program over the government’s failure to ensure that its operations do not incidentally harm or kill endangered ocelots in Arizona and Texas. These organizations allege violations of the ESA and are seeking to ensure ocelots are not killed inadvertently along with predators targeted by the program, which include coyotes, bears, and bobcats. In order to protect these endangered animals while the USFWS completes the required analysis, the Animal Welfare Institute and the Center for Biological Diversity are seeking a halt to Wildlife Services’ animal-killing activities throughout the ocelot’s range in southern Arizona and Texas.

 

Protection of Ocelots: Case Media