Ocelot Conservation Day

Ocelot Conservation Day was celebrated this past weekend in the U.S. – the purpose of the annual event is to raise awareness, and money, for this very beautiful and highly endangered small wild cat.

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Otto, an ocleot from Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium (Photo: Andrea Hennings) – All Images from Felid TAG on Facebook unless otherwise stated

In the U.S. Ocelots are found in South Texas, the few surviving numbers are concentrated in the shrub-lands at or near the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (LANWR), however a lone male Ocelot was spotted by camera trap in Arizona near the proposed site of the controversial Rosemont Copper mine.

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Ocelot Female OF 287 walking through the Texas thornscrub (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Ocelots can also be found in South America and Central America, Mexico and this year Argentina had its first sighting of the rare cat in 10 years.

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An Ocelot was sighted in the northeastern province of Corrientes by camera trap – Image FOX NEWS Latino

Researchers from the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research’s Sub-Tropical Biology Institute confirmed the sighting by chance while monitoring for giant anteaters. Sebastian di Martino, coordinator of Conservation Land Trust’s species-reintroduction program says that he hopes that there are more Ocelots in the area which would enable “the species to reproduce instead of being just the last Ocelot remaining from an extinct population.”

In the past Ocelots were hunted for their fur to make coats and while illegal poaching of the cats can still happen, another major factor contributing to their demise in Argentina, like elsewhere, is habitat destruction.

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Captive Ocelot – Image Wikipedia

The Caribbean Island of Trinidad, which is thought to have a very small population of Ocelots, is unique in the fact that it offers researchers the chance to study a top predator that isn’t influenced by larger cats like pumas or jaguars. It is hoped that the Ocelot can become “the face of forest conservation on the island – raising awareness and inspiring policies to protect these animals and their habitat.”

If you are interested in volunteering your time to help Ocelots, the EarthWatch Institute offers a unique volunteer experience to help monitor them on the island of Trinidad. With illegal hunting and habitat loss posing a major threat to the species researchers are trying to gather information to help better protect them and the tropical rain forests they inhabit.

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Cat Crossings

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.

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Ocelots, a species precariously close to being extinct in the US – Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Creative

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.” 

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Humans have rapidly created a deadly maze in which Ocelots must try to navigate to survive  – Photo Nature.org

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.”

Cat Crossings

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.

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Conserving and connecting habitat for ocelots is critical to minimizing mortality risk and improving the species ability to flourish. – Photo USFWS

New Blood

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.

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A new Ocelot kitten takes a selfie at the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge – Photo  US Fish & Wildlife

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The black-and-white trail camera image of the 2 month-old baby ocelot at the Wildlife Refuge, which houses one of only two breeding populations of the mid-sized wild cats in the US – Photo US Fish & Wildlife

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.

Little Cat vs Big Mine

When a photograph of a lone male Ocelot was snapped south of Tucson Arizona, in the Santa Rita Mountains last year it was cause for celebration and controversy. It turns out that this protected and endangered wildcat was photographed in an area where a Canadian based mining company had planned to build the US 3rd largest open-pit copper mine.

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The male ocelot, photographed on May 14, is the fifth to be documented in Arizona over the past five years.Source Tuscon.com

The Ocelot was photographed twice in 2014 with a remote-sensor camera operated by the University of Arizona, the same camera that had also taken pictures of an adult male Jaguar near the mine site.

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The Santa Rita jaguar…the only known jaguar in the US roams the Santa Rita mountains, a large portion of which would be destroyed by the Rosemont Copper project.Source Rosemont Mine Truth

The discovery of the Ocelot in April prompted the US Fish and Wildlife Service to reexamine its 2013 biological opinion that the Rosemont Copper mine would not unduly harm habitat for endangered species in the area, including the only known Jaguar in the USsource LA Times

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Conservationists fear a proposed copper mine would destroy important habitat for this endangered ocelot, jaguar in southern Arizona. (US Fish and Wildlife Service / University of Arizona) – Source LA Times

In the article published by the LA Times conservationists led by the Center for Biological Diversity based in Tucson said they have their minds made up. “The science is clear,” said Randy Serraglio, a spokesman for the center. “The Rosemont mine cannot coexist with Jaguars, Ocelots and other endangered wildlife whose survival is on the line. Beyond that, we may be witnessing the results of the good work the USFWS has done by making it illegal to kill jaguars and Ocelots,” he said. “Why would we want to turn our backs on that?”

A final decision has not been made, but the Rosemont copper mine faces obvious opposition for the devastating impacts it would have on wildlife, the water, air and the economy. A Facebook community called Rosemont Mine Truth was established and aims to provide the facts, source documents and truth behind this project.

Only time will tell if this Ocelot will be able to help put a stop to the Rosemont mine project and in a story of little cat vs big mine, I know exactly who I’m rooting for.

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