Close-up of an ocelot's face.
Ocelot An ocelot in Costa Rica © David Calderon/TNC Photo Contest 2019

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 Tamaulipan Thornscrub conservation sites: Lennox Foundation Southmost Preserve and Mesquite Brushlands Preserve.

Reconnecting the Bahia Grande (2:30) This region is one of the most biologically diverse areas in Texas, and a home to some of the state's ocelots.

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.