South Texas Ocelots
by Keith Hackland (email@example.com)
published January 2017
Not a bird, but a wild cat, larger than a house
cat, but generally smaller than a Bobcat. Ocelots
have long tails and rounded (Mickey
Mouse) ears. They play a valuable role in our
South Texas wild lands. They may eat birds but
are more likely to focus on rodents, from mice
to rabbits, for food. Seriously endangered with
their numbers in free fall for the past 100 years,
today we see some possible signs of their population
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service is responsible for ensuring survival of
wild Ocelots in United States and their recent
population estimates have been around fifty.
We believe that the greatest killer of Ocelots
in our area is cars. As they cross roads, particularly
at night, but also during the day, they are
hit and killed.
Ocelots are secretive and forage at night in
thick brush. Imagine thorny brush so thick that
humans cannot crawl through it - that is where
Ocelots live. They are found on Laguna Atascosa
National Wildlife Refuge and on South
Texas ranch land mostly close to the coast.
The Friends of Laguna Atascosa raise funds
for research into the lives of Ocelots. They run
a face book page filled with Ocelot news and
photos, called VivatheOcelot. They also organize
Ocelot events and feature news of Ocelots.
The following story is extracted with permission
from their January 2017 newsletter:
First Ocelot Den Discovered in 20 years at
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge!
This past year was encouraging for the endangered
ocelots of south Texas! Several females
with kittens were documented using
remote cameras placed in strategic locations
where ocelots live and reproduce.
"I suspect that the past couple of years of
abundant rainfall have made excellent breeding
conditions for these endangered wild cats,"
said Hilary Swarts, wildlife biologist with
the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), stationed at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife
Precipitation leads to plant growth, which in
turn provides food for the wildlife that ocelots
like to eat, such as rodents, rabbits, and birds.
"With plenty of food and water, and minimal
disturbance from humans, female ocelots have
all the resources they need to reproduce successfully,"
Of the seven known adult female ocelots at
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge,
two are just now reaching the age to reproduce,
three have recently been photographed
with healthy-looking kittens following close
behind, and one adult female has not yet been
seen with any offspring. However, the seventh
female brought researchers the most exciting
discovery of all.
Using GPS technology, biologists tracked
her movements and discovered the first confirmed
ocelot den at the
refuge in nearly twenty
years. At the den site, researchers
rejoiced to find a
male ocelot kitten, weighing
just shy of a pound, estimated
to be three weeks
old. The researchers took
measurements and photos
and left the area as quickly
as possible in the interest
of minimal disturbance.
His mother, approximately
11 years old, was not at
the den at the time, but returned
soon after. USFWS
researchers plan to track the kitten's growth
and progress in the coming years.
Swarts and other researchers track and monitor
ocelots in south Texas, collecting data on
their population numbers, health, habitat use,
range, and reproduction. These new kittens are
now part of this ongoing effort.
In addition to Laguna Atascosa National
Wildlife Refuge, private land plays a vital role
in ocelot survival and recovery. Land owners
that work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service to protect ocelot habitat on their own
property are also seeing camera evidence of
Of the adult females captured on camera by
USFWS biologists at the Yturria Conservation
Easement in Willacy County, at least three
have had kittens this past year. While ocelot
females usually have only one kitten per litter,
researchers were excited to see that one of the
three mothers had twins.
"Data gathered in Willacy County is further
evidence that private
ranches are often great havens
for wildlife and key
partners in our conservation
efforts. These private
lands will be crucial to protecting
habitat and wildlife
into the future," said Boyd
Blihovde, Refuge Manager
at Laguna Atascosa NWR.
As long as USFWS and
its partners continue to
work toward reducing
threats to ocelots in south
Texas and ocelots keep
there's great hope for the future of these majestic
wild cats in the lower Rio Grande Valley!