By Manon Verchot
Back in 1982, the Endangered Species Act took the ocelot under its protection. The ocelot is a vulnerable creature, susceptible to habitat changes like roads, agriculture, housing developments and trapping. There may be fewer than 100 left in southern United States.
Concerns that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making the plight of these 'dwarf leopards' worse led the Animal Welfare Institute and WildEarth Guardians to take legal action against the USDA's Wildlife Services program. They are suing Wildlife Services for "failing to ensure that it is not harming ocelots."
Wildlife Services describes itself as a program that resolves human - wildlife conflicts so people can "co-exist" with nature, but often, their solution to wildlife problems involves traps and cyanide capsules. They use these methods to deal with predators that are bothering farmers, but The Animal Welfare Institute and WildEarth Guardians say ocelots are getting caught in the cross-fire, killed by methods that can't tell the difference between an ocelot and a fox.
"Wildlife Services routinely fails to comply with federal laws like the Endangered Species Act," said Tara Zuardo, wildlife attorney with the Animal Welfare Institute in a press release. "Few ocelots remain in the United States and they require basic protection to ensure that they are not killed by the devices—such as steel-jaw leghold traps and cyanide capsules—Wildlife Services indiscriminately uses on public lands to kill wildlife."
This is not the first time the methods of Wildlife Services have been criticised. This June, the Washington Post reported it had killed more than 4 million animals through poisoning, snaring and shooting in 2013 alone.
Wildlife Services has defended its actions, saying, “As wildlife damage increases, requests for assistance also increase.”
But from year to year, the number of animals killed by the program fluctuates significantly, from 1.5 to 5 million. In 2008, 5 million animals were killed while over the next four years it was 3 million.The number is not rising, as Wildlife Services suggests, causing critics to question their justification for their methods.
So far, their secretive approach has gone relatively unnoticed. Now, the Animal Welfare Institute and WildEarth Guardians are trying to change that.