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I am – Species Summary:

The Ocelot is the largest of the small spotted cats that can be found in parts of North, South, and Central America. They are usually two to three times larger than an average house cat. They have long powerful legs and a tail that is about one-third to one-half of their body length. Ocelots can easily climb trees. In fact, it was once thought they lived exclusively in the trees.

Scientific Name: Leopardus pardalis

Family: Felidae – the biological family of the cats

Common Name: Ocelot. This name comes from the Mexican Aztec word “tlalocelot” meaning field tiger.

Range: Central and southwestern United States through Central and South America

Habitat: Includes thick brush, second-growth forests, mangrove forest, and rain forest.

Size: 3 feet (90cm) from the nose to the base of the tail; 11-16” (28-40 cm) from the base of the tail to the tip of the tail; body weight of 18-35 lbs (11-16 kg). Large males can reach 40” (102 cm) in length with an 18” (46 cm) tail and stand 18” (46 cm) at the shoulders.

Diet: Mostly small mammals and birds but are opportunistic and will eat what is available.

Ocelots are known for their beautifully patterned coats, which were once highly prized by the fur trade. The color of an ocelot ranges from tan or yellow to reddish gray, depending on where they live. The head and legs are marked with solid black spots, and black stripes on each wide of the nose. The body is marked with black circle patterns called rosettes or elongated spots along the back and sides. The markings of each ocelot are unique and can be used to identify individuals, much like fingerprints. Like most cats the ocelot has prominent white spots on the back of the ears. These markings help camouflage the ocelot keeping them hidden from prey and can help confuse both competitors and enemies.

The Neighborhood

The ocelot’s current range includes South America (except Chile), Central America, and northward into the southernmost part of the United States (Texas). Ocelots were once found throughout most of the state of Texas and parts of Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana. Today, they can only be found in Texas where there are only about one hundred ocelots left. The ocelots in Texas exist in many discontinuous smaller habitats. The largest contiguous population consists of approximately 40 animals in the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge. The ocelot is an “endangered” species.

Ocelots live in many different habitats: semi-arid scrub, woodlands, rain forests, montane forests, and thick brush-lands especially along waterways. The one thing that all of these habitats have in common is a thick over-head cover. Since they spend a lot of time on the ground, they prefer thick plant cover under which to hide, travel, and hunt. Ocelots avoid open spaces where they can be easily seen.

Texas ocelots live in semi-arid scrubland, which is usually dry with very few trees but extremely dense short bushes and shrubs. Many of these bushes have thorns. So, this habitat is referred to as “thorn scrub.” Ocelots travel in the 18” understory of this habitat. This means that biologists who study ocelots often have to craw on their bellies through this terrain.

My neighborhood

Ocelots share their habitat with many different types of animals, but they don’t share very well with each other. Both male and female ocelots have their own territories. Males will not share their territory with other adult males, and females will not share with other adult females. However, a male will share with females. In fact, the territory of a male ocelot usually overlaps the territories of several females. The sizes of adult male territories vary considerably ranging between 2.5 to 50 km2, depending on where they are found. The smallest territories are recorded in Texas population Territories are more likely to range between 10-20 km2. The territories of males can be four times larger than those of females.

Diet and Hunting

The ocelot is carnivore that hunts mainly at night. During the day, it prefers to rest in dense brush or up in trees.

An ocelot’s diet consists mainly of rodents (rats, mice, squirrels) and other small mammals. However, the exact diet is determined by the prey species available in the specific area in which they live. Ocelots will usually not kill anything that weighs more than half of its own weight.

Because ocelots are very secretive, it is rare for anyone to actually see them hunting. To find out what ocelots eat, scientists must study their scat (poop). From the bones and hair left in the scat, scientists can figure out what the animals actually eat and about how often they eat a particular prey. From scat samples, it has been determined that ocelots also eat reptiles (lizards and snakes), birds, fish, and land crabs. It seems that ocelot are not particularly picky eaters. They eat what they can catch, i.e. they are opportunistic hunters.

The ocelot uses two different hunting strategies to catch its daily meal: the “hunting walk” and the “sit-and-wait” strategies. During the hunting walk, the ocelot moves slowly and silently through its territory watching and listening for prey. When using the sit-and-wait strategy they hide and wait until a small animal comes close enough to catch. If no animal comes along, the ocelot will move to a new location.

With both methods, the ocelot takes advantage of the camouflage its beautiful fur provides to stay hidden until the prey comes within range. With a quick pounce, bite, and shake, the ocelot earns its meal.

An average adult ocelot needs about 1-2 lbs (550-840 g) of meat each day.

Ocelots not only hunt, they are hunted. They are hunted and eaten by large snakes, such as boa constrictors and anacondas, and larger cat species, such as pumas and jaguars.

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My world

Ocelots have excellent vision (especially at night), good hearing, a good sense of smell, and sensitive whiskers on their faces and arms. They are good climbers and jumpers, and will swim if they must.

Mating, Dating & Family

Ocelots generally travel and hunt alone. However, they do communicate with one another both vocally and by leaving scent marks. They can make mewing, yowling, hissing and growling sounds. Yowling is indicative of a female in estrus. To communicate by smell, they spray urine on trees and logs, or dribble urine on their feet and then scratch the ground and trees along trails they commonly use. This is referred to as scent marking. Different ocelots will sometimes use common “latrines”, defecating in the same spot. Ocelots can learn a lot about each other just by sniffing the smells left by others. They can determine if there is another male or female in the area, if that animal is familiar, and even if a female in the area is in estrus.

An ocelot can produce young any time of the year; however, in Texas more kittens are born in the fall than at other times of the year

Ocelot females have longer gestations, smaller litter sizes, and longer inter-birth intervals than those reported for other small cat species. The gestation period is 11-12 weeks (79-81 days). Litter size is usually one or two and very rarely three or four kittens. Females usually have one litter every two years. The kittens are born in dens in small caves, hollow trees, or even in the middle of a mound of bunch grass, which the mothers line with bedding.

Although considered to be solitary animals, adult female ocelots often travel with their own young. They are also tolerant of their maturing offspring staying in their territory until they leave to establish their own.

Growing up

Ocelot kittens are defenseless at birth. They first open their eyes at 14 days of age. They grow very rapidly and begin to accompany their mother on hunts at about 12 weeks of age. The kittens can take care of themselves by the time they are one year old, but may not leave home for another year. They reach their full size by the time they are two, and are able to mate at 18-24 months. A female can have her first kittens as early at 18-22 months of age. Male ocelots have bred successfully at two-and–a-half years of age.

Seriously? (Fun Facts)

• Ocelots teach their kittens to hunt, beginning when they are three months old.

• Like most cats, ocelots are born with their eyes closed and don’t open them until they are two weeks old.

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Where you can find them at the zoo: The America’s Exhibit.  
The Zoo has two ocelots: one male, named Opi and one female, named Ola. They live alone except when they come together to mate. Ola has successfully raised three kittens, who are now living at other zoos.Look carefully! Opi is in the left habitat. He likes to sleep on the upper rocks in the back of the exhibit and can be hard to see. He has a nick in his left ear that Ola gave him.Ola lives in the right habitat and likes to sleep next to the rocks in the front. She can often be seen walking around and rubbing objects in the habitat. Ola is smaller than Opi and has a longer tail.


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Ocelots are common in some parts of their range and rare in others. In the United States they are endangered. The ocelot population in Texas is at high risk for extinction. Only about 100 are thought to be left. The Texas ocelot is listed as endangered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The ocelot is also given the highest the protection rating by the Convention for International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

These organizations monitor and protect the ocelot and can assist in conservation measures. Countries that are part of CITES cannot sell or trade endangered animals for commercial purposes. For the ocelot, this means it cannot be sold to the pet trade or to the fur industry. Trade is only allowed for special purposes, such as science or conservation.

Even though there are laws to help protect the ocelot, they are difficult to enforce and smuggling animals across international borders still occurs.


In the past, the main threat to the ocelot was hunting. Fur trappers hunted ocelots for their beautiful pelts. In 1983, as many as 60,000 pelts were traded. Ocelots were also captured and sold as exotic pets. Illicit trading has been greatly reduced and is no longer a primary threat.

Today, loss of habitat is the primary threat to ocelots. This is especially true in the United States. Nearly all of the habitat ocelots prefer has been developed for human use. Only small isolated pockets of good habitat remain, and ocelots have to compete for what little space is available. Often, just a few ocelots live in an isolated pocket of good habitat but they cannot get to ocelots living in other isolated pockets. The result of this isolation is decreased genetic diversity. Roads going through ocelot habitat are another problem. A high percentage of ocelot deaths in the U.S. are caused by automobiles. Human pets such as domestic cats also pose a threat because they can transmit deadly diseases to wildlife.

The net result of a history of hunting pressure, loss and fragmentation of habitat, conflicts with man, and rapidly decreasing genetic diversity when coupled with their slow rate of reproduction is an animal on the brink of extinction.

Conservation Projects

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, zoos, universities, and other nongovernmental organizations have all been working cooperatively to help. More and more private landowners are also joining the effort.

All are trying to protect and restore ocelot habitat. Special corridors that connect small pockets of good habitat are being developed. To prevent ocelots from getting hit by cars, conservationists are trying to build culverts under highways.

One extreme strategy under consideration is to trap and bring ocelots from the healthier populations further south and introduce them to the population remaining in Texas.

Scientists and educators talk to people that live in the same places as ocelots so they know how to help.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) tracks ocelots in zoos through a Species Survival Plan (SSP).  All AZA-accredited zoos with ocelots participate in the SSP.  The SSP recommends specific ocelot moves between zoos to pair genetically compatible animals for breeding, with the goal of keeping the zoo ocelot population as genetically diverse as possible.

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