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NATURAL HISTORY

OCELOT} Leopardus pardalis
FAMILY: Felidae

DESCRIPTION: The ocelot is a medium-sized, spotted cat. It grows to about three feet long, not including its tail, and weighs around 30 pounds. It is described as crepuscular and nocturnal, spending the day resting under heavy brush.

HABITAT: This species dwells in tropical and subtropical rainforests to semi-arid, dense thornscrub. It may enjoy partly cleared forests and second-growth woodland. At one time, it inhabited brushland throughout the southwest United States, from the Texas panhandle to central Arizona. Much of that habitat was destroyed in the early part of the century to make way for agriculture.

RANGE: The ocelot ranges from southern Texas to northern Argentina. As of 1982, the ocelot occupied about 50,000 acres in the United States, 30,000 of that on private land and 20,000 in the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, where an estimated 12 to 60 cats roam.

MIGRATION: This species does not migrate. Male ocelots’ home ranges vary from 1.2 to 18 square kilometers, while home ranges of females vary from about .8 to 15 square kilometers.

BREEDING: The ocelot’s mating season varies across regions, in Texas occurring in October and in the Yucatan in the spring. The gestation period is 70 days and litters usually consist of one or two kittens (but up to four is possible).

LIFE CYCLE: The female ocelot reaches estrus — a period at which it is capable of conceiving — at eight months, but ocelots typically do not mate until they are two years old. Ocelots generally live from eight to 11 years.

FEEDING: The ocelot preys on mice, rats, opossums, raccoons, javelina, deer, doves, lizards, and rattlesnakes.

THREATS: Currently, the threats to the ocelot are habitat loss, human activities, feral dogs and swine, coyotes, mountain lions, raptors, and bobcats. Historically, one of the biggest threats to ocelots was hunting — shot as nuisance predators as well as for their valuable fur, they were nearly extirpated by human bullets.

POPULATION TREND: Fewer than 100 individuals persist in the United States. The majority of ocelots are located in Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley, an area critical for NAFTA projects. Globally, this species’ population is declining.

Photo by Tom Smylie, USFWS