Rancho El Aribabi makes up about 10,000 acres in northern Sonora in northwestern Mexico. The terrain ranges in elevation from 970 m on the Río Cocóspera to 1,700 m in the Sierra Azul.
Between the mountains and canyons, along the river, a thriving world of vulnerable flora and fauna can be found hiding in the long grasses of the savannah or in the ranch’s lush oak woodlands. Ocelots and jaguar skulk in the shadows, peccary root around in the dirt, and families of coati scurry through rocky paths.
Recent photos taken by trail cam and staff at the ranch show that these species are thriving.
These medium-sized spotted cats make their home in the area stretching from southern Texas and southern Arizona down to northern Argentina and the Caribbean islands of Margarita and Trinidad.
Researchers James C. Rorabaugh, Jan Schipper, Sergio Avila-Villegas, Jessica A. Lamberton-Moreno and Timothy Flood tracked the ocelots of Rancho El Aribabi for eight years. They found ocelots mainly in two different areas: a riverine riparian canyon and about 7 miles away along arroyos in an oak-mesquite savanna in the Sierra Azul.
The team used remote cameras to find evidence of 18 ocelots, eight of them males, five females and five that could not be determined. In one photograph from 2011, a female ocelot was seen followed by a 1- to 2-year-old kitten.
“That’s the first evidence of ocelots actually breeding this close to the border,” Jessica Moreno, biologist and one of the co-authors of the study, told AZ Central. “It makes very logical sense that from this population they’d be moving up to the Huachuca Mountains and northwards.”
The findings, “Ecology of an ocelot population at the northern edge of the species’ distribution in northern Sonora, Mexico,” were published in 2020 in PeerJ Life & Environment.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service classifies the ocelot as an endangered species. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species considers the ocelot a species of “Least Concern,” while the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) recognizes it as a species threatened with extinction.
Coati, relatives of the raccoon, have long been threatened by habitat loss.
According to the World Land Trust, “The species is widespread and relatively common in areas of intact habitat, but populations are under threat from hunting and the destruction and fragmentation of forest in Central and South America. However, the level of threat and the relative decline in numbers is not well known as this species is relatively unstudied.”
At Rancho El Aribabi, they have a safe place to thrive.
Jim Rorabaugh captured this image of a coati family in the Sierra Azul. There appears to be two adults and 17 young coati following along.
Collared peccaries are hunted by cougars, Mexican wolves, coyotes, jaguars, and bobcats, but deforestation and land title disputes have proven a much greater threat in recent years.
Trail cam photos taken at Rancho El Aribabi show two of these animals engaged in some nocturnal socializing.
Importance of Rancho El Aribabi
In March 2011 the Mexican National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) announced the designation of “Rancho El Aribabi” as a Natural Protected Area, under the category of Voluntary Land Conservation. The owners of Rancho El Aribabi are committed to conserving the habitat and safety of native flora and fauna on this 10,000 acres in the Sonoran Sky Islands.
“The excellent habitat, combined with a landowner with a strong conservation ethic, made the Ranch a natural fit for our work,” Sonoran Joint Venture (SJV) Coordinator Robert Mesta said in a press release from news release from SJV and Sky Island Alliance (SIA). “Finding a rancher in northern Mexico like Carlos Robles, who so strongly supports conservation, is unique. We knew we needed to encourage and support his efforts.”
“Designating Rancho El Aribabi as a protected area gives the Robles family the recognition they deserve for their hard work in bringing attention to the incredible diversity of their land, as well as their efforts to protect and improve the area for wildlife in the region,” Mesta continued. “Rancho El Aribabi will continue to provide excellent habitat for birds and other wildlife for years to come.”
SIA provides training for volunteers and students from Mexico and the U.S. on the ranch. The volunteer staff now tops 100 at Rancho El Aribabi, and its capacity for conservation is growing. Over the last decade, SIA has documented jaguars, ocelots and other common and protected species on the ranch.
“Sky Island Alliance commends ranch owner Carlos Robles and his family for their work and commitment to wildlife conservation,” said SIA Executive Director, Melanie Emerson. “His successes expand beyond international borders, and his land ethic reaches people from all walks of life, making him a model for community-based conservation in the region.”
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