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Endangered Ocelot gets protection in USA.

10/04/2007 00:00:00

Ocelot facts

  • The ocelot is a small cat, ranging from 15 to 35 pounds and measuring an average 3 feet 9 inches in length. Its coat has black splotches and stripes on a rich tan to gray background, with irregular black dots on a white underside and dark bars on the tail. The ocelot range currently extends from south Texas through Mexico and Central America into South America, inhabiting dense rainforest in the southern parts of its range. Hunting was probably the greatest threat to the ocelot, while in recent times (post 1930) habitat loss (primarily agricultural conversion) and vehicle strikes are considered to be the greatest threats to the remaining individuals. Only 50-100 ocelots are estimated to still occur in the United States, all occurring in southernmost Texas. The ocelot was listed as federally endangered within the United States in 1982.
There are estimated to be fewer than 100 ocelots left in the United States, all of which live along the south Texas coast. About 30 to 40 of these live on or around the 65,000 acre Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, home nine endangered or threatened species including the ocelot.

In an effort to provide habitat for the ocelot and build a partnership between landowners and wildlife advocates, Environmental Defense and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have signed a landmark 30 year Safe Harbour agreement for the endangered cat.
Ocelot. Credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Landowners in a 5 Texas counties can be protected under this cooperative agreement if they choose to allow their land to be made more suitable for the endangered ocelot known to have once roamed Texas and neighbouring states.

‘Safe Harbour Agreements are very important,’ said Environmental Defense Wildlife Biologist Linda Laack. If landowners decide that they would like to help develop habitat for an endangered animal, then they must know that they will not be punished for their good deed. These agreements guarantee that landowners won’t face future regulatory restrictions by making their land more inviting to endangered wildlife. To date, the service has acquired 2,500 acres of privately owned land near the refuge which equals even more greatly needed protected land for the ocelot.

Environmental Defense will be authorized to issue certificates of inclusion to landowners who agree to abide by the terms and conditions of the Safe Harbour Agreement by developing habitat for the ocelot, while not giving up their rights to future development.

‘The primary objective of a Safe Harbour Agreement is to encourage private landowners to voluntarily create and restore habitat where none previously existed or where development threatens the ocelot's livelihood,’ said Dr. Benjamin N. Tuggle, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Regional Director. ‘Private land is a primary habitat for many endangered species. Conservationists rely on the non-federal lands as well as government supported wildlife preserves and refuges to help protect species such as the ocelot. Landowners must feel comfortable in allowing endangered species onto their lands. This agreement allows that to happen.’ To be eligible for a Safe Harbour agreement, landowners must have habitat or potential habitat for a federally-listed endangered or threatened species in their area. By agreeing to make land improvements including planting vegetation, especially native thorn scrub, and installing watering systems to ensure plant development, landowners will receive financial and technical support.

‘We have already planted thorn scrub seedlings on about 600 acres of private land in the Rio Grande Valley as part of our ongoing effort to increase useable habitat for the ocelot in Texas,’ Karen Chapman, a wildlife specialists with Environmental Defense said. ‘I’ve been working with landowners on conservation initiatives across the Valley and this is an exciting step forward. For the next 30 years, and hopefully beyond, there will be a concerted effort to bring back the ocelot.’

As the agent overseeing the agreement, Environmental Defense and its staff of wildlife experts and biologists will work closely with applicant landowners to develop ocelot habitat which will also provide a natural safe place for other south Texas wildlife. The group will help develop a restoration plan as well as monitor progress of the habitat’s development and use by ocelots.

’Building partnerships between those who work the land and those who care so much about protecting it is important to our mission at Environmental Defense,’ said Laack. ‘This is a solution for protecting the ocelot, but also a model for how government agencies, landowners and environmentalists can work together to achieve common goals. It’s a win for everyone involved.’

There are few limits on what kind of landowner can participate.
Farmers, forest landowners, resort owners, residential and corporate land owners can all get involved in these projects. The first safe Harbour Agreement was established in 1995 in the Sandhills of North Carolina and proved beneficial to the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. By the 10th anniversary of Safe Harbour program, 327 landowners had signed up to be part of 31 different agreements in 17 states protecting more than 3.5 million acres of habitat for 35 different species across the country.

‘A major problem facing the endangered ocelot is loss of habitat’ said Laack. ‘Endangered species such as the ocelot benefit from extended land in Texas. Privately owned land provides an extension of territory that can help the ocelot to increase its population. This sort of agreement is very beneficial to the ocelot because it gives them a place to live where they are protected and allowed to flourish and grow as a species. Who wouldn’t support that’ we’ve signed the agreement showing our unwavering support of these efforts.’

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