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Faculty Lecture shines light on endangered ocelot destiny

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             KINGSVILLE (April 9, 2019) — Dr. Michael Tewes has spent the last 35 years of his life studying the endangered ocelot. Over those years, he has had triumphs and setbacks, but he still works to save his beloved wild cat. During the 37th Annual Faculty Lecture, Tewes addressed some of these attempts to help the elusive ocelot.


            Tewes began trying to capture ocelots in November 1981 for his doctoral research. He was not successful in trapping one until the morning of March 2, 1982. Over the two-year period of his research, he studied 12 ocelots.


            “I was so used to not catching any ocelot every morning, that I had to drive back to town to retrieve my equipment,” he said.


            Tewes said there are fewer than 80 ocelots in the United States. They occur in two different environments—between seven and 14 adult ocelots on the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and more than 35 on privately-owned ranches, both located in the Rio Grande Valley.


            He said those ocelots living in the wildlife refuge are isolated and surrounded by a lethal landscape. On the other hand, the population living on the ranch have a more friendly landscape of cover and prey. A much larger population than the two in the United States lives in northeastern Mexico.


            Tewes said one of his goals in presenting the Faculty Lecture is to outline a new path “that is strategic, rational and define the actions we should be implementing” to benefit the ocelots.


            Several ideas to save and grow the ocelot population on the north side of the border have been tried, unsuccessfully, over the past 35 years, Tewes said. “The four major conservation strategies purported to help ocelots including landscape corridors, habitat restoration, road crossings and translocation, have failed to provide ‘meaningful benefit’ for conservation of the felines in the United States.”


            “More than $20 million have been spent in the past 15 years, and I believe we have less habitat and fewer ocelots than when I began working on ocelots,” Tewes said. “Perhaps even more concerning, we squandered 25 precious years in the ongoing countdown to ocelot extirpation within the U.S.


            “Unfortunately, public attention and agency efforts over the past decade have focused on the few ill-fated refuge ocelots. In contrast, less recovery effort has been spent on the ranch ocelots which represent a much greater recovery opportunity,” he said.


            “There is good news. The future is brighter for the ranch ocelot population where 80 percent of the ocelots in the U.S. reside. This group is not afflicted by many of the same factors threatening refuge ocelots,” Tewes said. “Habitat patches used by the ranch ocelots are embedded with more sympathetic rangeland often with abundant prey and extensive woody cover to support ocelot dispersal between groups, an important contrast with the refuge population surrounded by a lethal landscape.”


            Tewes added, “Concerns of landowners regarding federal regulations, liability and government overreach as related to the presence of an endangered ocelot need to be alleviated with official agreements that are binding.”


            “To effect change, I urge the adoption of programs, policies and actions that will make a difference for ocelot recovery. These new actions should target the resident female ocelots, particularly within the ranch population,” Tewes said, “It is urgent that we translocate ocelots from northeastern Mexico into the existing ranch population.”


            “Ranchers must be a major element of the new paradigm for ocelot conservation. Ultimately, if ocelot recovery is to have any possibility of success in the U.S., ranchers must be the key players to support this effort,” Tewes said.


About Dr. Michael Tewes

            Dr. Michael Tewes grew up in Odem, 35 miles north of Kingsville. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in wildlife science from Texas A&M University and his doctorate in wildlife resources from University of Idaho. He began working with ocelots during the first year of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute in 1981.


            In 2007, he was named a Regents Professor, the highest honor for a professor in the Texas A&M University System. The next year, Tewes became the first holder of the Frank D. Yturria Endowed Chair in Wild Cat Studies.


            During his time studying wild cats, Tewes has worked with ocelots, bobcats and mountain lions in Texas; ocelots, jaguarundi in Mexico; clouded leopards, golden cats, marbled cats and leopard cats in Thailand; leopard in Africa; and viverrids in Taiwan.



Category: General Univ , Ag/Env & Wildlife Sci , Awards/Honors