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Ocelot - Leopardus pardalis

By: C.M.Shorter

Ocelots are well known and are considered by many to be one of the most beautiful Wild Cats. Their coat is golden in color, short and soft with well defined streaks and blotch type markings sometimes giving it an almost chainlike appearance. The Ocelot is often called the "Painted Leopard". Facial markings are similar to those of a Leopard Cat's with both horizontal stripes extending from the outer corners of each eye across the muzzle and vertical stripes running over the forehead. Their face and undersides are also snowy white in color. Tails are black on the upper side, white underneath ringed or barred in black ending with a black tip. Like most wild cats the ears are small and rounded and carry a pronounced white mark on the back of each. These "False Eyes" help confuse potential predators and also serve the purpose of helping the young follow their mothers through dense forest underbrush.
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Ocelots range from Southern Texas, Mexico into Central and South America in a wide variety of habitats from humid tropical forests to dry scrub and savannas, coastal mangrove and swamp forests preferring to dwell under shelter of dense forest cover. They are excellent swimmers and climbers, but not as agile as the Margay. Prey consists of a wide variety of small mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs, tortoises and insects with grass ingested regularly comprising up to 20% of their diet.

Exploited for the fur trade and exotic pet trade with the normal method of capture being to kill the mother to take the kittens, the ocelots population has suffered significant decline. Human interference and vehicular fatalities, particularly along Texas roadsides similar to the that of Florida's Key Deer and Florida Panther have also had a negative impact on their numbers.

Once prominent in the lower United States ranging through Texas across the Rio Grande, Ocelots are very territorial animals. Recent radio telemetry studies showed that an Ocelot patrols the bounds of his territory every 2 to 4 days, marking areas and checking on the sexual condition of females within his boundary. Special programs are in place sponsored by the Wildlife Advocacy Group to increase public awareness of activities in these areas. Particularly of a program implemented by the Immigration and Naturalization's Border Patrol called "Operation Rio Grande" consisting of over 200 stadium lights covering 25 miles along the Rio Grande, including fences and other intrusions constructed in critical wildlife territory to stop illegal immigrants from crossing the border into the United States.

These human barriers threaten extinction of the Ocelot and Jaguarundi in this area. The Jaguar and Margay, former natives of Texas are now extinct in this area. A coalition of groups including Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club and the Frontera Audubon Society have requested formal consultation with the Fish & Wildlife Service requesting the INS make an official "Environmental Impact Statement" to show compliance and intent of these activities in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act protecting these species. It is impossible for a Wild Cat to contend with these man-made barriers. Furthermore, much of the dense, thorny foliage in which they would normally take shelter has been cleared and the miles of stadium lights are very detrimental to these nocturnal hunters. Conservation goals are to achieve a sustainable "natural wildlife corridor" to allow these animals safe passage along their rightful protected territory.

Ocelots are prolific breeders in captivity resulting in Zoos having unwanted stock and there is a lack of sufficient quality permanent, life-time homes for the offspring in man's hands. They cannot survive long term at the present rate of habitat destruction in the wild. This is an ironic situation and the Ocelot is a good example of the need for well managed Captive Breeding Programs if we are to achieve a sustainable delicate balance between man and nature. Ocelots are offered protection over most of their range, with the exception of Ecuador, El Salvador and Guyana, being now placed on CITES Appendix I.

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Scientific Name: Leopardus pardalis
Common Name(s): Ocelot, Painted Leopard
Range: Southern Texas, Mexico, Central & South America
Average Weight: 8 - 12kg (17 - 26 lbs)
Length: 92 - 144 cm (37 - 58")
Diet: Carnivorous. Small Mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs, tortoises, insects and grass.
Gestation Period: 72 - 80 Days
Cub Maturity: 10 - 12 Months
Cubs Per Litter: 1 - 3 Kittens
Lifespan: 14- 18 years in the wild. Captive individuals have been recorded to live over 25 years.
Predators: Man. Threats: Deforestation, Loss of Habitat
Social Structure: Solitary except when breeding.
Territory Size: 30 - 50km (17 - 28 miles) with males covering larger territories than females.
Conservation Status: Placed on CITES Appendix I

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