Saving Big Cats from Federal Predator Control Could Take Legal Action

Saving Big Cats from Federal Traps, Poison Could Take Legal Action

SILVER CITY, New Mexico, May 1, 2010 (ENS) – The Center for Biological Diversity has formally notified the predator control branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, that it will file a lawsuit over Wildlife Services’ traps, snares, and poisons, which risk injuring or killing endangered jaguars and ocelots in the Southwest.

To protect the few remaining jaguars and ocelots, the Center is seeking a halt to animal killing activities that Wildlife Services conducts on behalf of the livestock industry across much of southern and central Arizona and New Mexico.

“Jaguars have pitifully poor protection, both in areas where they’ve recently lived and in their historical range,” said Michael Robinson of the Center. “And in Arizona, ocelots have no protection whatsoever from government predator control.”

“Both these beautiful wildcat species became highly imperiled in the first place partly because of government persecution, and risking the lives of the last remnants of these species in the course of killing cougars, bears, coyotes, or bobcats perpetuates a cruel and illegal policy,” Robinson said.

Wildlife Services is required by the Endangered Species Act to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, within the Department of the Interior, on any of its activities that may affect endangered species.

Its 1999 consultation on predator control effects on jaguars resulted in a formal biological opinion document that authorized the inadvertent killing of one jaguar, so long as Wildlife Services attempted to avoid said killing and adhered to mandatory terms and conditions intended to minimize the risk.

The terms and conditions include not using poisons and minimizing use of traps and snares within “occupied habitat,” as delineated on maps. But official occupied habitat is a small part of the landscape jaguars may roam, the Center argues.

Sent Friday, the notice of intent to sue points out that the 1999 biological opinion, which delineates occupied habitat in only a few mountain ranges constituting a small proportion of the Sky Islands region, is out of date.

Macho B, the last jaguar in the United States, chained to a tree. (Photo courtesy AZGFD)

“Nine studies and reports in the intervening decade suggest, and in several instances explicitly map out, a much broader region where jaguars may live,” says Robinson. “But any jaguars in these areas receive only lip service, and no effective safeguards against federal predator killing.”

Wildlife Services is not curtailed in its lethal work in the areas south of Tucson where the last known wild U.S. jaguar, Macho B, and at least one other jaguar lived for many years, which other jaguars may be expected to colonize.

In March, the Arizona Game and Fish Department fired field biologist Thorton Smith for lying to federal investigators about Macho B’s capture and death at the hands of scientists at the Phoenix Zoo. Initially, Smith claimed that the jaguar had been snared accidentally in a trap set for mountain lions or bears. He later confessed that the capture had been intentional, confirming a recent investigation by the Department of the Interior.

Ocelots have not received the benefit of any consultation between Wildlife Services and Fish and Wildlife regarding the former’s traps, snares, and poisons in Arizona. “For that reason, ocelots are unprotected on the ground though the law requires their protection,” says Robinson.

In April, an ocelot was run over by a vehicle near Globe, Arizona, and in November, an ocelot was photographed in Cochise County, Arizona – the first two of these reclusive animals to be confirmed in Arizona since 1964.

Jaguars are the largest feline native to the Americas. After the tiger and lion, the jaguar is the third-largest cat in the world. Golden with dark semicircle rosettes, or all black, jaguars evolved in North America before colonizing Central and South America.

Ocelots are also a spotted cat species, but are smaller than jaguars, closer in size to a bobcat. Like jaguars, ocelots have been targeted by fur hunters and hated as predators.

The Center for Biological Diversity’s advocacy and litigation was responsible for the jaguar’s protection as an endangered species in the United States in 1997, and for compelling the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this year to reverse course and decide to prepare a recovery plan for jaguars and to protect their habitats. Neither the recovery plan nor the habitat protection have yet been finalized.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.

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