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Animal Information

Ocelot Great Southwest


Leopardus pardalis

Biome: Great Southwest

Classification: Mammals

Biography: Twice the size of an average house cat, the ocelot is a sleek animal with a gorgeous dappled coat. Shy and elusive, their spotted coats make them very well camouflaged for blending into their surroundings, and they seem to mysteriously disappear into the shadows of their dense habitat.

These largely nocturnal cats use keen eyesight and hearing to hunt rabbits, rodents, snakes, fish and frogs, young deer and peccaries, iguanas and other lizards. Although Ocelots pursue prey primarily on the ground, they will occasionally take to the trees and stalk monkeys or birds. Like other cats, ocelots are carnivores and are adapted for eating meat. They have pointed fangs used to deliver a killing bite, and sharp back teeth that can tear food like scissors. Ocelots do not have teeth appropriate for chewing, so they tear their food to pieces and swallow it whole. Their raspy tongues can clean a bone of every last tasty morsel.

The ocelot in the United States once occurred in southern Arizona, throughout much of Texas, and as far north as Arkansas and Louisiana. As a result of habitat loss and fragmentation, road mortality and population isolation, the ocelot population in the U.S. has declined dramatically. In the U.S., they are found only in southern Texas (primarily the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge); and it is estimated that there are less than 40 individuals left in that state. The ocelot is at high risk of extinction in the U.S. They were listed as endangered species in 1982. Ocelots are protected in the United States and most other countries where they live.

Ocelots are known to inhabit a variety of different types of habitats. These range from the dense thorn scrub of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas to the tropical forests of South America. Ocelots are also known to live in the mountainous regions of Central America and the Andes. Their main requirement seems to be the presence of dense cover.

Throughout their entire range, the main threats to ocelot populations are habitat loss and fragmentation, hunting for their beautiful fur, predator control and collisions with vehicles.

Ocelot Fun Facts:
• As nocturnal hunters, they move at night and are rarely seen by people.
• Ocelots are the only remaining spotted cat in the United States.
• Female ocelots have litters of two or three darkly colored kittens. In northern locations, females den in the autumn, while in tropical climates the breeding season may not be fixed.
• Average 50" in length, from the tip of the tail to the tip of the nose.
• Ocelot males confine themselves to a range of up to 7 square miles, while females inhabit smaller areas of about 4 square miles. A male's home range usually overlaps that of several females.
• They are generally solitary animals, except during the breeding season.
• Ocelots can adapt to human habitats and are sometimes found in the vicinity of villages or other settlements. They do fairly well as long as hunting pressure isn't too intense and they have appropriate habitat available to them.
• Unlike many cats, they do not avoid water and can swim well.
• An ocelot weighs 24-35 pounds.

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