One of the great things about nature is that it's full of surprises.
A recent example involves the sighting Tuesday of an ocelot in southern Arizona, by a man who had been working in his yard in the Huachuca Mountains.
His dogs chased the cat up a tree (see photo). State wildlife experts arrived, took photos and verified the sighting, then left the animal alone.
It marked an extremely rare U.S. sighting of a species that has been federally endangered since 1982, and only the second time one of the spotted wildcats has been documented in Arizona since the mid-1960s.
Ocelots, which are nocturnal predators that can weigh up to about 35 pounds, were once hunted extensively for their beautifully-dappled coats. In the United States, only southern Texas is believed to contain a remnant population, but after Tuesday's sighting the extreme northern fringe of their habitat must also include Arizona.
To the south, ocelots range in brushland and rainforests from Mexico well into South America. They're now largely protected throughout this range, but poaching remains a problem.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department will work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to try to determine whether the oceloty spotted Tuesday was, in fact, a naturally occurring specimen or a pet recently released into the wild.
The former agency requests that anyone with recent sighting information and/or photos call (800) 352-0700.
-- Pete Thomas
Photo of the ocelot sighted Tuesday is courtesy of the Arizona Game and Fish Department