Rare Wild Cats Sighted in Southern Arizona

It is common enough to see a mountain lion in Southern Arizona, but recent sightings of rare wild cats like the Jaguar and the Ocelot has surprised locals as well as wildlife experts.

Twice this year the Arizona Game and Fish Department announced the sightings of endangered ocelots in the southeast region of the state. These wild cats have spots like a jaguar but are a little smaller in size.

A third ocelot sighting was reported last Friday by a homeowner who took some burly images of the cat. State officials said that it was probably a serval, an African cat popular in the pet trade. The animal has long ears, long legs and appeared to have only solid spots instead of the solid spots and haloed spots on an ocelot according to the officials.

On November 19 the rare Jaguar was said to be spotted again in Arizona after it was last seen in 2009. After the Lion and the Tiger, the Jaguar is the third largest of all the wild cats and it is the only large feline species found in the western hemisphere.

Donnie Fenn, a professional guide based in Benson, Arizona who specializes in mountain lion hunts, was out with his ten year old daughter when his pack of eight hounds took off in a frenzy.

Before long the dogs had cornered an animal on a tree. When Donnie saw the animal through his telephoto lens, it turned out to be an endangered Jaguar.

“I was scared,” Fenn said. “I didn’t know if that thing was going to turn on me. I could feel its power. It was twice the size of a big mountain lion. It was definitely the experience of a lifetime.”

The guide added that his dogs were also  scratched by the Jaguar who had been cornered. He believes the animal might have come from north from Mexico.

State officials also say that in June, a helicopter pilot working along the border for the federal Department of Homeland Security reported seeing a jaguar in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson. As the pilot had previously seen mountain lions and could tell the difference between the two animals, his reported sighting was believed to be true.

But although biologists tried to find tracks, hair or droppings from the animal at the same spot, they could not find anything or locate the jaguar.

Fenn, however, was lucky as he could take a picture of his chance sighting. He crept close to the mesquite tree where the cat was cornered by his dogs and took photos and video. He also notified state officials who were later able to find 15 hair samples left behind by the animal and a tree trunk that showed signs of being climbed by a large clawed animal.

They believe it was a 200 pound adult male jaguar that Fenn and his daughter had seen.

“What’s so appealing to the general public is that jaguars are so exotic,” said Mark Hart, a spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “They are jungle cats from Central and South America, and the fact that they might be in our state really gets people’s attention. It’s a romantic notion.”

Fenn has become a local celebrity of sorts with his website being hit thousands of times to catch the video of the jaguar. He adds that although his daughter was a bit disappointed at not being able to hunt her first mountain lion, she now realizes that seeing a Jaguar too was a memorable experience.

“It was quite an experience, even if she didn’t get to kill anything,” Fenn said.

Southern Arizona meanwhile seems to have become the new territory for some of the rarest wild cats.