The Dwarf Leopard

In honor of the upcoming Ocelot Conservation Day, which is celebrated in the US on March 7, I will be dedicating this weeks posts to the beautiful little wild cat which is also known as The Dwarf Leopard.

The Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) is part of the genus Leopardus, which also includes the  Margay, and is twice the size of the average house cat.

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All of the cats in Leopardus genus are spotted, lithe, and small, with the Ocelot being the biggest.

The fur of a Ocelot resembles that of a clouded leopard or jaguar and was once regarded as particularly valuable. As a result, in the 1970’s and 80’s hundreds of thousands of Ocelot were killed for their fur.

Appearance

  • Coat pattern can be cream, reddish-brown or grayish marked with black rosettes
  • The chain like blotches are bordered with black but have a lighter colored center and run the entire length of the cat
  • The underside is white and single and white spots, called ocelli, appear on the backs of the ears
  • Two black stripes line both sides of the face, and the long tail is banded by black

Behavior

  • Mostly nocturnal and very territorial, Ocelots sometimes fight to the death for territory which they mark with urine
  • They are solitary, usually only coming together to mate but may occasionally share a spot during the day with another Ocelot of the same-sex as they rest in trees or other dense foliage
  • The Ocelot hunts during the night and eats mostly small animals including lizards, frogs, crabs and birds. Fish along with rodents, rabbits, and opossums form the largest part of the diet
  • Studies suggest that Ocelots follow and find prey via odor trails
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The ocelot also has very good vision, including night vision

Breeding and Babies

  • Ocelots typically breed only once every other year but mating can occur at any time of year
  • After mating, the female will find a den in a cave in a rocky bluff, a hollow tree, or a dense (preferably thorny) thicket
  • Usually a single kitten is born, after about 79 to 82 days, with its eyes closed and a thin covering of hair
  • Ocelot kittens grow quite slowly and do not open their eyes for 15 to 18 days and begin to leave the den at three months
  • They can remain with their mother for up to two years, before leaving to establish their own territory
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Small litter size and relative infrequency of breeding make the Ocelot particularly vulnerable to population loss – ImageUSFWS Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

Territory and Range

  • They are found in tropical forest, thorn forest, mangrove swamps and savanna
  • The Ocelot is distributed over South and Central America (It is thought to be extinct in Uruguay) and Mexico, but have been reported as far north as Texas and in Trinidad, in the Caribbean
  • The Ocelot once inhabited areas of the Gulf Coast of south and eastern Texas, and could be found in Arizona, Louisiana, and Arkansas
  • In the United States, it currently ranges only in several small areas of dense thicket in South Texas and is rarely sighted in Arizona
  • An Ocelot was photographed in the mountains of  Arizona in 2009, the first evidence of the felines presence in the state

Challenges and Threats  – Small litter size, high infant mortality, deforestation and habitat destruction

  • In the US most surviving Texas Ocelots are in the shrub-lands at or near the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge where only 30-35 are estimated to remain
  • The Ocelots continued presence in the US is questionable, as a result largely of the introduction of dogs, being shot by ranchers, the loss of habitat, and the introduction of highways
  • Young male Ocelots are frequently killed by cars during their search for a territory

Listed in 1982 as endangered, the Ocelot is protected by the Endangered Species Act and is also listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Commercial trade of CITES Appendix I species is strictly prohibited – source USFWS

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Ocelots can live for up to 20 years in captivity

Pets

  • Sadly like many wildcats, Ocelots had been, and may still likely be, kept as pets
  • Salvador Dalí frequently traveled with his pet ocelot Babou, even bringing the cat aboard the luxury ocean liner SS France
  • Musician Gram Parsons kept an ocelot as a pet in the back yard swimming pool area of his family’s Winter Haven Florida home in the mid 60’s

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Fun Fact: The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped animals and often depicted the ocelot in their art

Source – Feline Conservation Federation

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