Experts determine sighting was most likely a serval
The Arizona Game and Fish Department announced today that yesterday’s reported sighting in Cochise County of an endangered ocelot may have been a serval (Leptailurus serval), an African cat popular in the pet trade, or possibly a serval hybrid.
The Department uses a three-tiered classification system to rank reported sightings from the public based on the level of physical evidence available. The presence of physical evidence such as scat, hair, tracks and/or photos and video can lead to a Class I designation of “verifiable” or “highly probable.”
A second-tier classification is one that lacks physical evidence, but is considered “probable” or “possible” because the sighting was made by an experienced or reliable observer that usually has wildlife or field experience.
The third tier classification is one that does not have sufficient physical evidence or sufficient details, or is otherwise of questionable reliability and would be considered “highly unlikely” or “rejected” as evidence for occurrence.
Yesterday’s (Dec. 2, 2011) report of an ocelot was classified as “highly probable” based on the photos and the paw prints taken at the location of the sighting. The officer responding was unable to locate the animal or retrieve additional physical evidence such as hair or scat.
As noted in the original press release announcing the sighting, Game and Fish shared the photographs with department biologists and other ocelot experts for an independent analysis to attempt to more definitively determine if it is an ocelot, hybrid or other large cat, as well as compare it to photos from previous sightings to determine if it is the same or a different animal from those sightings. “Upon closer examination, some key identification markers make a stronger case for this being a serval, or serval hybrid rather than an ocelot,” said Eric Gardner, Nongame Branch Chief. “Although the pictures are blurry, two show that the animal has long ears, long legs, and appears to display only solid spots instead of the combination of solid spots and haloed rosettes seen on an ocelot.”
“This is a textbook example of why the Department attempts to makes such a clear distinction between a report of any rare wildlife sighting versus one with properly examined physical evidence. Positive identification by species experts or genetic analysis is required before any report is entered into our Heritage Data Management System as confirmed. It appears that this one may go down as ‘close but no cigar’” Mr. Gardner stated. “Additionally, the Department appreciates the assistance of Rodrigo Nunez of Proyecto Jaguar, Melanie Emerson of Sky Island Alliance, Joshua Smith of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other large cat experts in evaluating the photos.”
After analysis is complete, the Department will release an official statement of findings.