Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ocelot released in South Texas wildlife refuge

New list item: Ocelot released

Written by El Defensor Chieftain Reports
Wednesday, 09 December 2009 06:00

In my "vast experience" as an amateur naturalist I have been fortunate to be at the release of many animals, endangered and otherwise, back into their native habitats. These include California Condors at the Grand Canyon, bald eagles at Big Bear Lake in California, Mexican Grey wolves in New Mexico and sea turtles here in Texas. Along with that, of course, was spending the past summer on the Armendaris Ranch reintroducing the Aplomado Falcon.

Today, I added another to my growing list. The most endangered of all. An ocelot. No one knows for sure, but there may be as few as 50 of these beautiful creatures left in the U.S., most of them living under the protective umbrella of Fish & Wildlife Service refuges such as Laguna Atascosa.

Just recently there was a tragedy here, when someone riding on the tour loop came across the body of an ocelot that had been hit by a car. How you could hit this animal and not report it is a crime in itself, but to make matters worse, it was a young female who appeared to recently have been lactating and the fear was there may have been kittens left to fend for themselves. Fish & Wildlife biologists went into action immediately to see if this was the case, but turned up nothing.

Today's release was of a young, very healthy, 23-pound male, who had earlier been collared and physically checked but had lost its collar somehow.

Traps and cameras are scattered throughout the refuge and checked daily to see what they turn up. Usually it's a raccoon or sometimes a coyote this time, however, it was a very angry and anxious ocelot.

Sandra and I were informed that if we wanted to get some photos of his release, be out on the loop between Mile 8 and 9 at 3 p.m. And so we were.

Now, I've been taking pictures for nearly 50 years and am pretty good at anticipating what's coming down. But as I readied myself for the release shot and gave the go ahead with a nod, the cage door opened and I got a great shot of an empty cage with an open door, and the blur of a tail in the corner.

But hey, this wasn't about me. It was about returning a beautiful cat back into the wild where, with luck, it will reproduce and maybe someday — with the help of all the professionals and volunteers dedicated to its survival — this species, like the bald eagle, and more recently the brown pelican, can be removed from the endangered list.

Erv Nichols is a longtime volunteer for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. He and his partner, Sandra Noll, reside part time in Socorro.


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