TUCSON, Ariz. -- The Arizona Game and Fish Department said a photo taken in late September depicts a jaguar not an ocelot.
The photo was captured by a hunter's trail camera southeast of Tucson, but identification of the species was more difficult because the photo shows only the tail and a small portion of its hindquarters, officials said.
"Analysis of the spot pattern on the tail as well as the animal's size when compared to the surrounding vegetation and to other animals led us to believe the photo showed a jaguar," said Game and Fish Nongame Branch Chief Eric Gardner. "Without biasing the results by announcing our in-house conclusions, we asked others that work with large cat conservation to weigh in because of the limited information the photo provided."
Jaguars once ranged from southern South America through Central America and Mexico and into the southern United States. It is believed that southern Arizona is the most northern part of the range for a population of jaguars living in Sonora, Mexico, and that the United States contains less than 1 percent of the jaguars' total habitat.
Both the jaguar and ocelot are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Sightings of both of these species are important to biologists. By knowing where these cats are seen, it helps increase the understanding of the species' existence in borderland areas.
The department asks anyone who encounters a cat believed to be a jaguar or ocelot to report the sighting along with photos if available to the department or through the Operation Game Thief hotline at 1-800-352-0700.