|Listed||March 28, 1972|
|Description||Small, dark-spotted cat with grayish to cinnamon shading above and white underparts.|
|Reproduction||Litter of two kittens.|
|Threats||Hunting, loss of habitat.|
|Range||Arizona, Texas; Mexico|
The ocelot, Felis pardalis, is a small, dark-spotted cat with a compact muscular body, weighing 20-40 lb (9-18 kg). Mature males may reach a body length of about 39 in (100 cm) with a tail length of up to 18 in (45 cm); females are usually smaller than males. The pelt is gray above, often shading into cinnamon; underparts are white. Some of the dark markings are elongated, more nearly stripes than spots. The tail is ringed in black. The eyes are brown, and the pupils form spindles when contracted. This cat has also been classified as Leopardus pardalis.
The reclusive ocelot haunts dense thickets, impenetrable forests, or secluded desert areas. It is a solitary hunter that stalks small prey of all sorts— rodents and other small mammals, birds, lizards, and toads. Animals usually den in a cave or other secure location and line the enclosure with bedding materials. The gestation period is 70 days, after which two young usually are born. In the United States, most young are born in September or October.
The ocelot is adapted to a wide range of habitats, all having a single common factor—seclusion. In Texas, the cat was restricted to dense forest and thorny scrub along streams and rivers. In Arizona, it inhabited desert scrub vegetation. Farther south in Mexico and Central America, the cat prefers coastal mangrove forests and swampy savannahs.
The ocelot ranged throughout most of Texas and southeastern Arizona. Its range extends south along both coasts of Mexico into Central and South America.
The ocelot is still found throughout its historic range but in greatly reduced numbers. No current population estimates are available.
As with many other small spotted cats, the ocelot has been persistently hunted for its pelt. Although it is protected in the United States by the Endangered Species Act and worldwide by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, trade in ocelot skins is brisk. An ocelot coat has been known to fetch as much as US$40,000. With such demand, illegal poaching is likely to continue despite efforts to enforce restrictions. But as more and more people are becoming aware of the growing scarcity of small spotted cats, fur coat sales are facing increased social hostility, which is dampening the fashion for the cat's pelts.
The ocelot's own reputation as a hunter has also contributed to its endangerment: An unwelcome poultry pest, farmers often destroy the unwanted predators. The cats are also sometimes poached for the pet trade, because they are easily tamed in captivity.
Conservation and Recovery
Another problem for small cats, including the ocelot, is that they have not been very well studied. Consequently, wildlife experts are unsure of the best strategy for ensuring their long-term survival. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has funded ocelot research in south Texas since 1981, and the results of this research is being used to design the recovery plan. In March 1988, two ocelots were translocated within the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge on the southern coast of Texas. These cats were moved from another area where they ran a high risk of being hit by motor vehicles. In June 1990, a translocated female began to display denning behavior and after three searches, four-week-old kittens were found. As part of a revegetation project in 1990, 10 radio-collared ocelots in the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge were monitored. The study provided insight in determining vegetation types and size of corridors used by ocelots. Revegetation of former farm fields to habitat for this taxa is still ongoing on the refuge. South Texas is becoming a friendlier place to both the ocelot and the likewise endangered Jaguarundi, thanks to a voluntary 1995 agreement between Bayview Irrigation District 11 and the FWS to conserve brushy habitat. District 11 owns approximately 100 mi (160 km) of irrigation and drainage ditches in Cameron County, the heart of the ocelot's remaining U. S. range. Brush growing along these ditches is important cover and dispersal habitat for the region's isolated ocelot populations. In the past, much of this habitat was lost when banks were cleared during the removal of silt and debris from the ditches. Under the agreement, District 11 modified its maintenance procedures. On previously cleared ditches, the district is allowing one bank to revegetate where practical and conducting its cleaning work from the other side. The resulting regrowth of brushy habitat provides vital corridors for the endangered cats. Brush growing along irrigation ditches in south Texas complements the habitat managed for ocelots at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, which supports the state's largest remaining population. A few miles to the south, additional habitat for the endangered cats, as well as a wide variety of birds and other wildlife, is being conserved within the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. During the mid-1990s, local citizens proposed establishing another refuge near Harlingen, which would protect valuable habitat bordering the Arroyo Colorado. One reason the people of south Texas are so interested in conserving their wildlife is tourism. The region supports an unusually diverse aggregation of birds, including a number of species found nowhere else in the United States. Birders from throughout the country flock to south Texas to observe this unique resource. Together, local refuges and parks annually attract more than 500,000 visitors who pump millions of dollars into the regional economy. And what is good for the birds is good for the cats.
Guggisberg, C. A. W. 1975. Wild Cats of the World. Taplinger Publishing, New York.
Walker, E. P., et al. 1964. Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
Williams, T. November, 1985. "Small Cats: Forgotten, Exploited." Audubon 87: 34-41.