The ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) is a wild cat distributed over South and Central America and Mexico. It has been reported as far north as Texas and in Trinidad, in the Caribbean. It can be up to 3 ft 2 in (100 cm) long, plus 1 ft 6 inches (45 cm) tail length, and weighs 20 to 33 pounds (10 to 15 kg).
The ocelot is mostly nocturnal and very territorial. They will fight fiercely, sometimes to the death. This is most likely in territorial disputes. Like most felines, they are solitary, usually meeting only to mate. However, during the day they rest in trees or other dense foliage. They will occasionally share their spot with another ocelot of the same gender. When mating, the female will find a den in a cave in a rocky bluff, a hollow tree, or a dense (preferably thorny) thicket. The pregnancy period is estimated to be 70 days. Generally the female will have 2 to 4 kittens, born in the autumn with their eyes closed and a thin covering of hair.
While ocelots are well equipped for a tree dwelling lifestyle, they are mostly terrestrial. Prey includes almost any small animal. Monkeys, snakes, rodents, fish, amphibians and birds are common prey. They also prey on small domestic animals such as baby pigs and poultry. Almost all of the prey that the ocelot hunts is far smaller than itself. Studies suggest that they follow and find prey via odor trails. They also have very keen vision, including night vision.
The ocelot’s physical appearance is similar to that of the domestic cat. Its fur resembles that of a jaguar and was once regarded as particularly valuable. As a result, hundreds of thousands of ocelots have been killed for their fur. The feline was classified a “vulnerable” endangered species from the 1980s until 1996.
Ocelots once inhabited the chaparral thickets of the Gulf coast in south and eastern Texas. They were also found in Arizona. In the United States, they now range only in several small areas of dense thicket in South Texas. The ocelot’s continued presence in the U.S. is questionable. This is due largely to the introduction of dogs, the loss of habitat, and the introduction of highways.