Ocelot
Ocelot Less than 1,000 of these cats are thought to survive, roaming between Texas and Mexico via wildlife corridors. © The Nature Conservancy

Stories in Texas

Ocelots in Texas

The ocelot inhabits dense chaparral thickets, where it preys on small and medium size vertebrates.

Somewhat bigger than a large housecat, an ocelot can grow as long as 4.5 feet and weigh as much as 35 pounds. Its “op-art” pattern consists of chainlike streaks of dark markings. Widely distributed, the cat ranges from Texas to South America. In Texas, it inhabits dense chaparral thickets, where it preys on small and medium size vertebrates, including rodents, rabbits, birds, 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 fall and winter.

While the species enjoys wide distribution, the subspecies that inhabits Texas and adjacent northeastern Mexico, Leopardus pardalis albescens, is federally endangered. Less than 1,000 of the cats are thought to survive, roaming between Texas and Mexico via wildlife corridors. Protection of these vital corridors is an important part of the Conservancy’s work at its three Tamaulipan Thornscrub conservation sites: Lennox Foundation Southmost PreserveChihuahua Woods Preserve, and Mesquite Brushlands Preserve.

All ocelot populations—subspecies included—are generally reduced or declining, mostly due to habitat destruction, poaching for fur and anti-predator measures. Restrictions on trade and changes in socially acceptable fashion have largely mitigated hunting pressures, while thornscrub conservation is protecting and restoring ocelot habitat and migratory corridors.

Tidbit: Spanish painter Salvador Dali famously took his pet ocelot to a New York City restaurant, where he tethered it to the table. A shocked passing woman stopped asked him what manner of animal it was. The eccentric painter disdainfully answered, “It’s only a cat. I’ve painted it over with an op-art design.” With obvious relief she replied, “At first I thought it was a real ocelot.”