WHAT DOES THE BORDERCATS WORKING GROUP DO

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Although BWG is concerned with all bordercats, currently the group is focused on improving the long-term health and recovery of three endangered species, the jaguar, jaguarundi, and ocelot in the border regions of the USA, including areas in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and adjacent Mexican states of Coahuila, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon, Sonora, and Tamaulipas.

Through our cooperative efforts, BWG will both formally and informally influence the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery teams for each of the species. Range distributions for each species are greater than one state or country, thus, the current capacity of the formal recovery teams to actually achieve recovery, without the help of a greater scientific and conservation community, is limited.

The mission of the BWG will be accomplished with four main activities.  They are:

Field Research

A conservation-based research program was developed by BWG to enhance our understanding of each species and interactions between species. BWG is using a suite of techniques to survey bordercat populations. Our methods include track and scat counts, remotely-triggered camera surveys, questionnaires distributed to local resource managers, and radio-telemetry. Our surveys will help determine distribution, abundance, habitat preferences, feeding habits, corridor use, location of core populations, and principal threats to each species. We are specifically interested in identifying the northernmost breeding populations of ocelots, jaguarundis, and jaguars and measuring the frequency and distance of dispersal events away from this core. Towards this end, we are requesting the assistance of Carlos Lopez, Arturo Caso and other scientists.

In our western bioregion (Arizona, New Mexico, Chihuahua, Sonora), we are conducting surveys in Sonora which are designed to detect the presence of neotropical cats. We have identified three metapopulations of jaguars in the Mexican State of Sonora, just 218 kms south of the international border. This area is important to conservation because it marks the northernmost limit of the species in Western Mexico. Ocelots were recorded from the southern tip of the state during the 1930's, but no records of jaguarundis or margays exist. Our survey efforts in this area will reveal where core populations are for the smaller neotropical cats.

Round River Conservation Studies is supplementing field personnel to conduct intensive surveys, providing us with greater opportunities to determine bordercat distribution. In 1999 BWG and Round River Conservation Studies conducted a pilot study to determine the status of neotropical cats in the Chiricahua and Peloncillo Mountains of southeastern Arizona. Study techniques included tracking stations, remote-trip cameras, and interviews, which yielded data on all carnivores present. No tracks or photographs of neotropical felids were obtained, although accounts of 21 jaguarundi, two ocelot, and two jaguar sightings were recorded. Historical records of southeastern Arizona were reviewed for all three species. Track and camera data emphasized the importance of deciduous riparian habitat for maintaining diversity and abundance of carnivores as well as other vertebrates. The results of this project are being prepared for publication.

As a Round River field supervisor, Kevin Crooks is working with Mexican biologists to compile a tracking manual to discriminate between ocelot, jaguar, jaguarundi, mountain lion, and bobcat tracks and scat, so that volunteers do not misidentify species while in the field.

In 1999 BWG also conducted a Rio Grande river survey for bordercats in Texas and Mexico. BWG recorded the distribution of bordercat tracks and other spoor along portions of this river. We were accompanied by Marcelo Aranda, a Mexican tracks expert. Approximately 100 miles of river were traversed during the survey. The trip began in the Boquillas Canyon overlook and proceeded northeast towards La Linda. In total, we observed nine mountain lion track sets (including two cubs), six bobcat track sets, and one jaguarundi track set -- this was found at the mouth of the western end of the Boquillas Canyon. All track sets were photographed, measured and mapped while in the field. In addition, a GPS unit was used to measure the location of each track set. During this time BWG also met with Big Bend National Park researchers and began to discuss what areas need to be inventoried more intensely in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and northern Mexico. The results of this project are being prepared for publication.

The BWG is presently conducting a surveys in our eastern bioregion (Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas) to identify the northernmost populations of ocelots and jaguarundis in northeast Mexico. Results from this survey will be available in the near future.

In Texas-Tamaulipas, we are determining what corridors would best provide opportunities for connectivity between two isolated ocelot populations (and possible individuals in the Lower Rio Grande Valley) in Texas to other population cores in northern Mexico and whether it is possible to link the Texas populations to a larger metapopulation. Kevin Crooks is completing a review of culvert/underpass suitability for bordercats as a means of connecting fragmented populations. In addition, Dave Maehr is reviewing the effectiveness of "funneling" movements of bordercats adjacent to rivers. Melissa Grigione, Diana Lawhorn and Paul Polechla have reviewed cat literature to determine the minimal size requirements for populations of ocelots, jaguarundis, and jaguars and what kind of habitat types and prey species are suitable for each of the species across their range.

Our field work will "ground truth" our GIS data - specifically, what vegetation types and topographic characteristics exist in bordercat areas. We may need to obtain satellite data of some of our study areas. This information would strengthen our GIS analysis and give us an understanding of how habitat has been modified over time.

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Geographic Information System Analysis

Spatial information for the border area is being collected and mapped in a GIS by the Groups GIS professionals (Robert Thomas, John Morrison, & Kurt Menke). GIS activities complement our field efforts by assisting in the delineation of primary and secondary bordercat habitat in areas of the southwestern US and adjacent Mexican states. The sources for this information are the respective GAP programs in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. A variety of data layers are available from the GAP programs, including vegetation, county boundaries, road network, and rivers. While the information is provided in mismatched projections, vegetation classification systems, and data layers, enough information is available (supplemented from other sources) from each state to provide a template map that includes:

bullet†† Vegetation

bullet††  County Boundaries 

bullet††  Road Networks

bullet††  Developed Areas 

bullet††  Hydrology 

bullet††  Historical Sightings 

bullet††  Shaded Relief

An important subset of this mapping effort are maps that include 100's of historical sightings of bordercats across their historic range since the turn of the century. This information has been presented graphically to illustrate the distribution of bordercats within their historic range and to correlate sightings with vegetation classes. All of these data are intended for use by regional experts. These regional experts will use the template maps, in combination with information from an ongoing Latin American jaguar analysis by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), to evaluate habitat in the border areas. The WCS study will identify core populations of jaguars in northern Mexico. The emphasis of the BWG experts will be to identify habitat blocks north of the border connected by potential movement corridors to existing core population areas of cats in Mexico. These areas will be priority areas for conservation efforts. Other potential habitat blocks will also be delineated. Future efforts may focus on acquiring data layers of land ownership and habitat integrity in order to evaluate the opportunities for conservation in the areas that have been selected as appropriate habitat.

A primary objective of our GIS research is to show BWG where to invest its efforts and not to presage what should be done at a particular site or to supplant programs that are already in progress. A major focus of our GIS efforts will be to depict where bordercat sightings have been during the last hundred years, in order to understand demographic trends for each of the species and to potentially determine what caused species declines (habitat loss, hunting, lack of prey, disease, etc.).

GIS maps for presentations will include: original vegetative cover maps (turn of the century, if possible), denatured property (in several decade increments), existing preserves, potential corridors, restoration areas, and an idealized, Wildlands-type map for bordercat conservation which specifies ecological preferences for each of the species.

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Population Viability Assessments

A population viability analysis will be performed by members of BWG on the remaining Texas ocelot populations in order to help determine their current status and to assist in revising the recovery plan. Given the relatively large amount of information available on the these populations, as well as the species in general, they are excellent candidates for PVA. The model, which will be constructed with RAMAS/GIS software, will use GIS maps of the habitat area, along with current behavioral, demographic, and genetic data on the specific local populations, as well as those northern Mexican populations which might contribute dispersers to Texas, to map the ocelots' metapopulation structure and to generate high and low estimates of model parameters, such as reproductive rate, survival, and dispersal. Sensitivity analyses will evaluate the importance of various factors, such as the availability of safe dispersal corridors, local demography, and catastrophes, on the populations' risk of extinction, and various conservation strategies, such as reintroduction of individuals from other populations, may be evaluated. Lastly, the effects of different land use scenarios, including refuge expansion and Army Corps of Engineers building projects, on model parameters will be estimated in order to provide insight into these actions probable impacts on the populations.

In addition to examining the viability of Texas' remaining ocelot populations, PVA will be used to help plan future recovery efforts for ocelot and jaguarundi throughout their U.S. range. Using data from the GIS maps described in the previous section, ocelot and jaguarundi 'conservation units' will be identified in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. These areas, some of which will be connected, have the potential to house ocelot and/or jaguarundi populations, and will be targeted for conservation and reintroduction efforts. PVA will be used to help prioritize these areas by assessing their potential to support viable cat populations, and will address questions related to recovery planning. For instance, based on the model developed for the Texas populations, how many animals could be placed in a given unit, and how long could such a population be expected to persist? Does more land need to be acquired, and if so, what areas would be most likely to have the highest beneficial impact? How many animals might need to be imported (either by dispersal from Mexico or via reintroduction) in order to found a reasonably successful population?

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Museum Research and Literature Reviews

BWG is using museum records, historical accounts, published material (such as mammals of a particular region), and interviews (with field biologists, cat hunters/guides, indigenous people, elders, ecotourist guides) to reconstruct demographic trends for each species. BWG will also develop and distribute a questionnaire to local people about presence/absence of bordercats and attitudes toward bordercats. Dave Foreman and The Wildlands Project will supply road kill data for bordercats. Based on a component of historic and recent information, we may be able to detect when particular populations declined and why. A review of this information will enable us to locate specific sites where bordercats were observed. This "clearing house of sightings" is presently being incorporated into the GIS to reconstruct a species distribution map. We will use the protocols established by Tewes and Everett (1986) to rate our sighting information (i.e. reliable accounts to questionable accounts).

In addition, we are using information in the literature to assess habitat and prey preferences for each of the species. This will enable us to measure how "plastic" each species is with regard to their ecological needs across the U.S. and Mexico. We may also be able to detect unique requirements that arise as a speciesí approaches the most northern limits of its range.

Museums have already been polled for specimens of ocelots, jaguars, and jaguarundis using Hafner et al.ís (1997) directory as a guide. Localities from which museum specimens have been collected and have been plotted on a map.

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