Ocelots are medium-sized cats native to tropical and subtropical regions of North to South America. Ocelots are famous for their beautifully distinctive markings, which consist of spots, stripes, and sometimes even dark rosettes. Ocelots are strong, agile cats that not only climb and run well but are also good swimmers. Like jaguars, ocelots are known to tackle large prey relative to their own body size.
Sonoran ocelots (Leopardus pardalis sonoriensis) are considered a smaller, paler and distinct subspecies of ocelot, but little is known of the ecology and habitat use of this subspecies- including its basic geographic distribution or genetic differences from other recognized subspecies. Sonoran ocelots do occur in Arizona, and thus represent the northernmost subspecies of ocelot. To date, no ecological research project has been conducted on Sonoran ocelots, except for a single effort to estimate the Sonoran population that yielded 36 modern and historic records of harvested individuals since 1898, 21 of which were animals from 1991 or later. Since 2009, five individual ocelots have been verified in Arizona.
Many basic questions regarding this cat are left unanswered: How different is the Sonoran ocelot from other ocelots? What is the distribution of the Sonoran ocelot? How does Sonoran ocelot habitat different from ocelot habitat in other regions? What is their population status?
Ocelots were heavily exploited in the 20th century, particularly from the 1960s to the 1980s. Primarily hunted for their fur (or pelts), they were also captured and kept as exotic pets to the point that they nearly became extinct in the wild. Since ocelots became a protected species, numbers have risen but they are now threatened by deforestation and destruction of habitat from industrial mining activities.
Aside from habitat destruction, threats to endangered Sonoran ocelots in the northern periphery of their range are numerous. Direct threats include poaching and predator removal programs, highway and road collisions, and mounting border-related disturbances and barriers, including the U.S/Mexico border wall. In Mexico, despite legal protections, ocelots are still poached for their fur (one ocelot fur coat sold for over US$40,000). Ocelots are also persecuted along with jaguars as predators of livestock, and fall victim to indiscriminate predator poisoning efforts.