Guest Blog: Jaguars and Ocelots in Arizona by Pinau Merlin

Ocelot | courtesy of Pinau Merlin

Ocelot | Courtesy of Tony Battiste

Deep in the shadows of the night, a jaguar moves silently through the rugged terrain. Although rarely seen, we know both jaguars and ocelots are here because remote, motion-sensor cameras are documenting their presence in Arizona’s wild areas. The University of Arizona Jaguar Survey and Monitoring Project has established more than 140 remote-camera sites in 16 mountain ranges across Southeastern Arizona for a three-year study.

There are only a few of these neotropical spotted cats in Arizona, which is the northern edge of the range for both jaguars and ocelots, and they are so secretive and reclusive that we know little about their habits here. The cameras provide a non-intrusive method of identifying individual cats and learning about their habitat preferences. The spotted coats of  these cats camouflage them in the dappled sunlight and shade of the forest, but the spot patterns are also like fingerprints — unique to each cat. The camera sites are set up with dual cameras to photograph both sides of the animal, since the spot pattern is different on each side of the cat.

The only one currently known jaguar and several ocelots in Arizona are proving very adaptable, using a variety of  habitats. The jaguar has even been photographed in coniferous forest in the snow! Being generalists and opportunistic hunters also allows these cats to adapt well. In fact, these cats promote biodiversity and help to maintain a balanced ecosystem.  By preying on a variety of species, they prevent any one species from becoming dominant (as seen in the overabundance of deer in the Midwest) and out-competing the others, thus maintaining species diversity and habitat quality.

The presence of these spotted cats in Arizona is not a new phenomenon. Jaguars and ocelots have always roamed the state in low numbers. Some 66 jaguars and 17 ocelots have been documented over the last century, including females and kittens, although we have no females that we know of at present. The few ocelots and the jaguar that we now have need our help to continue to survive here. Open space and unfragmented habitat is their most important need. Ocelots are homebodies with relatively small home ranges, but jaguars require large home ranges of up to 150 square miles or more. They also need wildlife-friendly open-space corridors that allow them to move between mountain ranges.

You can help by voting for open-space bonds, supporting habitat-connectivity corridors, putting your land into conservation easements and maintaining native vegetation, and donating to organizations that are working to study and preserve these magnificent cats.

Among other sites, visit:

Northern Jaguar Project

Primero Conservation

Sky Island Alliance

The University of Arizona Wildcat Center

Wildlife Conservation Society

For more information, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Arizona Ecological Service Office’s website.

—Pinau Merlin, Outreach Coordinator, UA/USFWS Jaguar Outreach and Education Project





Filed under Mother Nature, News

7 responses to “Guest Blog: Jaguars and Ocelots in Arizona by Pinau Merlin

  1. Another way to help is to donate to those organizations that are working to stop new open pit mines in the habitat and wildlife corridors of the Santa Rita and Patagonia Mountains.

  2. glenna davolt

    We live due West of downtown Tucson about 6 miles, in Pima Co. About three years ago, we saw an ocelot in our driveway, two days in a row –then –never again. Just yesterday, we had one on our brick patio briefly; it looked like a young one, as it was smaller than the one three years ago (or –maybe just a small female? ) We live up over a wash that connects to Tucson Mtn. Park, then to Saguaro Nat’l West.

  3. You have used MY photograph without permission. I want an explanation why a photo credit was not included with this unauthorized usage

    • Dear Mr Battiste,

      I am very sorry that we used your photo without properly crediting you. Your photo was provided to me by the author of the blog post, Pinau Merlin. She did not provide credit information, however, she did alert me to the mistake and I have fixed that. My apologies.

  4. Samual Panatony

    its all good till they eat you

  5. The best way to contribute to jaguar conservation in the U.S. is to educate oneself on how jaguar conservation has been conducted thus far and which organizations are actually doing work to conserve and protect the jaguar, not just claim they are. Then act or donate appropriately.
    To explore how jaguar conservation has recently been conducted in the U.S. please visit my website The website details the events surrounding the jaguar, Macho B’s capture and death. Unfortunately, most people involved with Macho B’s capture that lied about said involvement and/or knowledge about the preparation for capture are represented in Ms. Merlin’s list of organizations “that are working to study and preserve these magnificent cats,” including the U of AZ.

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