OK, so it’s not exactly the abominable snowman or Bigfoot, but here’s a discovery with photo proof: For the first time, an ocelot has been spotted in Arizona. This discovery extends the range of this tropical cat by roughly 200 miles north into Cochise County, AZ. Previously, the cat was known to exist throughout Central and South America up to Northern Mexico and extreme southern Texas.
Michael Quigley was hiking in Arizona’s Sky Island range with friends when he set up the camera that documented the rare cat. Months went by and work got in the way, delaying his return to the camera. In April, Gene and Bernice Isaacs volunteered to retrieve the data. On the film: a blurry photo of an ocelot dated November 7, 2009—a first for the state in modern history.
Ocelots are medium-sized cats weighing 20-35 lbs. They resemble small versions of leopards, only with spots on their neck and torso that look like they got smeared in the drying process. Ocelots hunt at night and feast on small rodents, birds, and lizards (Weird fact: Salvador Dali kept an ocelot as a pet, and took his precious Babou on his travels around the world. While ocelots are still sometimes kept as pets, it’s probably not a great idea.)
The ocelot joins its much larger cousin the jaguar, whose presence in Arizona has been the source of much debate and conservation effort by wildlife managers and partisans on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border.
Both Quigley and the Isaacs worked in conjunction with Sky Island Alliance, a conservation organization based out of Tucson. Patagonia helped sponsor the project through their “Witness for Wildlife” program, which provides support for remote cameras to document activity in wildlife corridors.
Want to see an ocelot in the Arizona wild? Don’t bet on it: These reclusive cats exist above the Mexico border in limited numbers and are mostly nocturnal, so don’t forget your headlamp.