Ocelot - Leopardus pardalis (formerly Felis pardalis): A New World cat found in forests and thick brushlands of South and Central America, ranging as far north as Texas. Ocelots eat a variety of small mammals, as well as fish, lizards and snakes and some birds. (They do not have a "tendency" to eat monkeys, as some people seem to believe - the most common prey species are all small rodents). Mainly nocturnal, ocelots are good swimmers and fairly good climbers. They often sleep in the lower branches of trees, although their dens are made in sheltered areas on the ground. Their territories cover up to 3 square miles, with males and females typically sharing territory. They are solitary hunters, like most cats. Generally these cats live 8-11 years in the wild, but have lived up to 20 years in captivity.

The word "ocelot" comes from the Aztec tlalocelot, meaning "field tiger". Other names for the ocelot are "painted leopard", tigrillo, tirica, jaguatirica, chat tig (meaning "tiger cat"), maracaya and gato onza.

Ocelots are at some risk throughout most of their territory, and are in the CITES Appendix I list, which lists animals that are not to be traded in because of extreme threat to the species. However, as of 2000 they have been removed from the IUCN Endangered Species list, with the exception of the Texas subspecies which remains endangered. In the 1960s and 70s ocelots were very actively hunted, with one estimate putting the international trade at 200,000 pelts per year. Importing ocelot pelts was outlawed in the US in 1972, and they are now protected in most of the countries they live in, but are still hunted legally in Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador and Guyana, and some illegal hunting probably continues elsewhere. Since the late Seventies the market for ocelot pelts has been dramatically reduced, and many countries have reported recovering ocelot populations. Apparently the ocelot is more resilient than many other cat species, something of a specialist in surviving under harsh conditions. It is relatively tolerant of habitat reduction, able to survive in disturbed habitats and in close proximity to humans. However, the Texas ocelot subspecies is in critical danger due to extreme habitat reduction, and it is still classed as endangered.

Description: Ocelots have striped and spotted markings in black on a yellow to red background. The most distinctive markings are a series of chain-like patterns running the length of the body. Every ocelot bears unique markings, and unfortunately this means that many of the pelts taken from slaughtered ocelots were never even used, due to the difficulty in matching the pelts to make attractive fur coats. Their bellies are white with black markings, and the tails are ringed. Body length is typically 55-100 cm (22-39 inches), and the tail is around 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). Weight when fully grown is around 11-16 kg (25-35 pounds).

Reproduction: Ocelots breed every two years or so and have a gestation period of about 70 days. The average litter size is one or two kittens, but may be up to four. The kittens are raised exclusively by the female ocelot. Kittens become independent after about a year, although after about two months they will begin to accompany their mothers on the hunt.

Texas Ocelot (Felis pardalis albescens) is a subspecies that was once common throughout southern Texas and Mexico. This subspecies is in extreme danger, with fewer than 1,000 animals remaining today (100 in Texas), due to drastic reduction of the brushy areas they require for effective hunting. The San Antonio Zoo and other Texas zoos are concentrating on this subspecies now, attempting to develop an effective breeding program with the eventual goal of reintroducing the Texas ocelot into the wild.

The grandfather of someone I know was an exotic animal smuggler. He gave his son (her father) an ocelot as a gift when he was a little boy and the ocelot was a little kitten. They got along fine, and were the best of friends.

Of course, as feline development is much faster than a human's, the ocelot soon outgrew the little boy. They remained best friends, and continued to play together, despite the fact that by now the ocelot could disembowel the little boy in a split second.

Every night the two slept together in the barn, with the ocelot's arms wrapped around the little boy, protecting him as if the boy was the ocelot's young. The boy's parents wanted to photograph this, and attempted to several times.

However, no matter how carefully they crept or how cautiously they waited for the right moment to snap the picture, in every single developed photograph the ocelot's exposed eye was wide open, staring at the camera, completely aware of the intruders.

O"ce*lot (?), n. [Mexican ocelotl.] Zool.

An American feline carnivore (Felis pardalis). It ranges from the Southwestern United States to Patagonia. It is covered with blackish ocellated spots and blotches, which are variously arranged. The ground color varies from reddish gray to tawny yellow.

 

© Webster 1913.

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