There are less than 50 Ocelots estimated remaining in the US, concentrated primarily around Laguna Atascosa and on private lands in Texas, however the combination of vehicles and urban development have become one of the greatest threats to this endangered cat.
The death of any of these rare cats is considered devastating and when one was killed by a vehicle on a Texas state Highway south of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in the Rio Grand Valley in November 2013, it was taken very seriously. The cat was identified as Ocelot Male 276 and had been “watched with trepidation as he crisscrossed a patchwork of cotton fields and convenience stores, culverts and roadways, seeking to establish a territory and find a mate.“
“Ocelots are so beautiful and so rare, and to lose so many of these animals to vehicular collision just seems senseless.” said refuge manager Boyd Blihovde in an article published by National Geographic. “The number one cause of Ocelot deaths in the US today is vehicular. Six of the 14 cats tracked with radio telemetry by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Laguna Atascosa biologists have been killed by vehicles. As Blihovde puts it, “Wildcats and highways don’t mix.” While vehicles aren’t solely responsible for the damage they are helping to deliver a deadly blow to the species when coupled with other factors like habitat loss and fragmentation.
“Some 95 percent of the cats native habitat in the US has been converted to agriculture or become urban sprawl.”
The space requirements needed for these cats to recover properly is estimated to be one million acres and while the US Fish and Wildlife Service has taken steps to help the Ocelot it has fallen short in its promise to secure land to create habitats and corridors for the cat. Ultimately this means that the responsibility has and will fall with the people as 95% of land in Texas is privately owned. “Landowner incentives will be required and may offer the best hope to conserve the species.”
The news for Ocelots seems rather grim but wildlife crossings, like the one pictured below, are scheduled to be built in 2016 and will help the cats avoid vehicles, busy highways and importantly connect them safely to new territory.
When the images of a kitten appeared on the trail camera in the Laguna Atascosa Refuge last March the photos brought hope and relief as each new kitten means the species has a chance. The kitten who is thought to be female, will hopefully breed successfully giving a much-needed boost to the US Ocelot population.
How you can help
In honor of Ocelot Conservation Day today, please ask the US Fish and Wildlife Service to do more for these cats by signing and sharing this Care2 petition. Ocelots desperately need our help and by giving them the protection and habitat to roam, we can ensure they are around for many years to come.