Meagan Bethel, Sonoran Ocelot Habitat Protection in the Sky Island Region, Arizona
Meagan is an ambitious 16 year old who has taken it upon herself to gather the crucial, scientific and GIS mapping data needed to protect vital habitats in the Sonora Desert region of Arizona. Meagan began her advocacy work at age 12 when she learned how to track, identify and document wildlife using GIS and remote cameras. Meagan explains that this endangered species is not accurately classified in the US, and she is doing something about it. A critical step in protecting any species is gathering confirmed data to document its presence. Meagan has been documenting ocelot distribution utilizing remote sensing camera data and GIS mapping to assess the critical habitat of ocelots and to document ocelot presences within the Sky Island regions in the Sonoran Desert. This project is the first step that must be taken in establishing critical habitat for the Sonoran ocelot and in changing its current “foreign” classification and lack of US protection. Meagan says, “By establishing their critical habitat, I believe we can take the first step in actually protecting them.”
The process of collecting data is not easy. Accessing the cameras’ data, requires a 90-minute drive into the surrounding area, a 45-minute drive over rough terrain into the base of the canyon area followed by an 80-minute hike into the area in order to collect the photo data from the four cameras. The cameras are in the middle of the high desert that changes, so topographical maps are of assistance. Meagan collects the data and maintains the cameras, then begins the arduous work to analyze each photo for hidden species amidst the brush. She explains that she’s analyzed 1,242 photos to date, and through her analysis (and support from local professors, family and the Sky Island Alliance), she is hoping to define and ultimately be able to protect this vital habitat that is already under threat from open pit mining in the area.
Meagan will use grant funds for more cameras and supplies to continue her work to protect ocelot habitat, a project that ultimately benefits all wildlife in the area.
GRANT AWARD DATE: AUGUST 24, 2013