PHOENIX -- Arizona Game and Fish Department officials say a rare ocelot was observed Tuesday morning in southern Arizona.
A man called Game and Fish and said that while he was working in his yard in the Huachuca Mountains his dogs began barking at a cat-like animal, which quickly climbed a tree.
He said he suspected that the small spotted cat might be an ocelot, a rare and endangered species of cat.
A Game and Fish officer went to the site and confirmed that it was an ocelot and appeared to be healthy. There was no indication that there had been any dog-to-cat direct interaction, as no wounds were visible on any animal.
The officer took photos of the animal and retrieved some scat samples from the scene. Then the ocelot was allowed to go on his way.
Ocelots are small to medium-sized spotted cats with a long tail. They have been listed as endangered since 1982 under the Federal Endangered Species Act and since then have only rarely been seen in Arizona.
Only one other ocelot, an animal run over near Globe last April, has been confirmed in Arizona since the mid-1960s. One other ocelot was reportedly captured on film by the Sky Island Alliance in November 2009. However, according to Game and Fish, it has not been possible to fully verify the species or the animal's origin based on that photo.
Arizona Game and Fish will work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to attempt to determine whether or not this was a naturally occurring ocelot. Some ocelots are known to be kept as pets and, occasionally, individual animals escape or are released into the wild.
Ocelots are protected by the Endangered Species Act and should be left alone. If anyone encounters an animal believed to be an ocelot, it should be reported immediately to the Game and Fish Department.