Natural dispersal or illegal pets? Limitations on assigning origin to road-killed ocelots in the southwestern United States


  • Associate Editor: Baker.


The ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) is a spotted felid that is critically endangered in the United States (U.S.). During spring 2010, 2 ocelots were road-killed in the southwestern U.S. far from known populations; an adult male near Palo Pinto, Texas, and a subadult male near Globe, Arizona. Necropsy results indicated that the Palo Pinto ocelot was likely a captive, whereas the Arizona ocelot was consistent with a wild individual. We used genetic data to determine the geographic origin of the ocelot lineages. A South American assignment would suggest human-mediated transfer of ocelots, whereas an assignment to northern Mexico may indicate natural movements. We acquired reference-sequence data and performed a phylogenetic analysis. Our results suggested that the Palo Pinto ocelot's lineage was from northern Mexico or southern Texas. The Arizona ocelot's lineage grouped with Mexico and Guatemala; however, sampling constraints prevented any explicit geographic assignments. Collecting additional genetic samples throughout Mexico is essential for future assignment analyses, and to determine whether illegal pet trafficking is occurring. These efforts would also provide necessary data to assist ocelot recovery in the U.S. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.