Ocelot – Leopardus pardalis
The beautiful ocelot is a spotted and striped cat that now occupies a reduced habitat in far south Texas, close to the cities of Brownsville and Harlingen. The cat’s markings are unique; no two cats have the same pattern. It ranges in size from 30 – 41 inches long and weighs from 15 – 30 pounds. Males are larger than females. Their range is 1 – 4 square miles. Females give birth to 1 – 4 kittens that become mature at approximately 20 months for females and 30 months for males. Their diet consists mostly of small animals, such as rodents, rabbits, birds, snakes, and young deer.
The ocelots’ former habitat included much of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Arizona. Historically, land conversion to farming caused a reduction in ocelot habitat. Now, however, habitat loss due to urbanization (subdivisions, wind industry, road expansion, human population growth, and potential liquefied natural gas facilities) is the main reason for decline. Ironically, throughout the remainder of its range in Latin America, the ocelot is often the predominant predator and is considered abundant.
The remaining ocelots in Texas occupy Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and some surrounding private properties in what is known as dense thorn scrub habitat. This habitat is inhospitable to people and some other animals but is one that provides suitable shelter for these remaining cats.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service calls for a recovery plan of 275 ocelots in order for them to be removed from the endangered species list. However, until ocelots have enough suitable habitat and a reasonably secure environment, they continue to face degraded habitat and potentially declining numbers.
Key points about ocelots
- Ocelot is endangered in the United States
- Texas has only breeding population in the US
- Cats’ habitat is highly fragmented
- Estimated only 80 exist in Texas
- “Endangered means there’s still time”