Similar in size to a bobcat, the ocelot can grow as long as 3.5 feet and weigh up to 35 pounds. Its “op-art” pattern consists of chainlike streaks, spots, blotches and rosettes of dark markings. Widely distributed, the ocelot ranges from south Texas to northern Argentina. In Texas, they primarily inhabit dense chaparral brush, where they prey on small mammals, reptiles and birds, including rodents, rabbits, snakes, lizards and young deer. Denning in caves, hollow trees and thickets, Texan ocelots breed in late summer, bearing litters of two to three cubs in the fall and winter. Yet, fewer than 100 ocelots are known to exist in the entire United States.
Ocelots were once found across much of Texas and into Louisiana and Arkansas, but historic hunting, trapping, poisoning and habitat loss have greatly reduced their range and population size. As a result, the subspecies that inhabits Texas and adjacent northeastern Mexico (Leopardus pardalis albescens) is federally endangered. Today, these cats roam between Texas and Mexico via wildlife corridors. The protection and restoration of these vital corridors is an important part of TNC's work at the Lennox Foundation Southmost Preserve, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's efforts at the nearby Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and those of local private ranchers.
Many of the trapping, hunting and poisoning programs that diminished ocelot numbers have now been reduced or eliminated altogether. TNC is hopeful that, through concerted initiatives both on and off its preserves, the species may potentially recover. By entering into conservation easement agreements with landowners, we aim to further restore and protect ocelot habitat and migratory corridors. Other NGOs and partner agencies are also working to introduce new genetics, advance species-focused research and help grow populations in their historic range.