Perhaps the most strikingly patterned wild cat in the world, the ocelot (Felis pardalis) has paid a steep price for its beauty. With a pelage of black spots and elongated rosettes on a golden backdrop, the ocelot is perfectly suited to evading the notice of prey such as small mammals and birds in the thick vegetation in which it hunts.

But that captivating pelt made this cat the favorite of the fur and pet trades, and each year between the early 1960s and mid-1970s as many as tens or even hundreds of thousands of ocelots were killed and captured throughout Central and South America.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has greatly curtailed killing and capture of ocelots, but ongoing habitat destruction has likely slowed and retarded recovery tremendously. Furthermore, the status of ocelots is not known throughout the majority of its range.

In the United States, where ocelots are thought to have once ranged from Louisiana to Arizona, only one population exists, of around 100 animals, in south Texas close to Mexico. Some of their habitat is on three national wildlife refuges, but because these refuges are small and disjunct, many ocelots must cross extensive agricultural lands to interbreed. Many are killed on roads.

The last confirmed ocelot in Arizona was killed in 1964, although a series of unconfirmed sightings in the Chiricahua Mountains of southern Arizona suggest they may have roamed their more recently, and individuals may still occasionally cross into the state from Mexico.

The ocelot in the United States was listed as an endangered species in 1982. However, no critical habitat was designated and the sole U.S. population may continue to be in decline. Throughout the ocelot's past and present borderlands range, Border Patrol vehicle use and construction of fences and lights threatens possible migratory routes from Mexico. The Center works with other organizations to oppose this militarization of the border. In addition, our work to protect habitat for jaguars, also a species whose Arizona and New Mexico presence depends on recolonization from Mexico, will provide the same benefits to ocelots.

Federal Status:
Date Listed:
47 FR 31670; July 21, 1982.
The ocelot is a small to medium-sized
spotted cat, weighing 17 to 30 lbs.
U.S.A. (AZ, TX) to Central and South America. Males tend to have larger ranges.
Found in humid tropical and subtropical forest, coastal mangroves, swampy savannas, and semi-arid scrub (one of the borderland cats).
Life Cycle:
Life span 8 - 11 years. Females usually begin estrus after age 2. Gestation ranges from 80 to 90 days. Litter size is usually 1 or 2 kittens but may be up to 4.
Primarily small to medium sized mammals and birds, but also reptiles, fish, and invertebrates.
Habitat destruction from agriculture, ranching and development, trapping, and poaching have brought this cat to endangered status. The lack of adequate protection is keeping this cat from recovery. Currently there is no designated critical habitat for the ocelot.
Family: Felidae


graphic Andrew Rodman ©2002
July 3, 2003
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