The ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) is a small wild cat species that currently occurs from Northern Argentina up to the southern tip of the United States, where ocelots occur in Texas and sometimes in Arizona. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature considers ocelots as a species of “Least Concern” for extinction rage wide, though the overall ocelot population is decreasing, and ocelots are considered endangered in some countries. In the United States, ocelots have been classified as federally endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1982.
Historically, ocelots’ range in the United States is believed to have extended throughout Arizona, Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. However, historic overexploitation from unregulated hunting, trapping, and poisoning plus destruction and fragmentation of habitat has left ocelots vulnerable to extirpation from the United States. Today, resident breeding ocelots in the United States may number fewer than 100 individuals the wild. All of these breeding individuals occur in deep south Texas near the Gulf of Mexico. Due to their low numbers and isolation from other ocelot populations in Mexico, ocelots in the U.S. are threatened by low genetic diversity. This leaves them vulnerable to the negative impacts of genetic defects, which may be caused by inbreeding, and diseases. Further, because ocelots in Texas all live in low-elevation coastal areas, some worry that the viability of the entire existing U.S. breeding ocelot populations and their habitat could be lost in a single local catastrophic event, such as a high-impact tropical storm along the Gulf coast.
"Fewer than 80 ocelots are known to live in the United States and most of these live on private ranches in South Texas. As a result, private landowners and their resources are vital to the conservation and recovery of this wild, nocturnal, and secretive cat. East Foundation is one such landowner, having photo-documented more than 30 individual ocelots on its El Sauz Ranch near Port Mansfield. The remoteness, lack of paved roads, and associated infrequent vehicle traffic on the ranch help provide secure habitat for one of only two known breeding populations of ocelots in Texas. Together with its research partners, East Foundation is also collecting data on ocelot population size, survival, and mortality; movements and activity; prey abundance and food habits; habitat use, and competition with other carnivores to inform and solidify recovery strategies by populating key knowledge gaps related to ocelot conservation on private lands.
The recovery of the ocelot largely depends on private landowners and the stewardship of their lands. East Foundation is committed to maintaining productive habitat for the ocelot and producing reliable research aimed at making recovery of the species a reality. Further, East Foundation is excited to apply its extensive ocelot research to this project and to work with other land stewards to assess possibilities for supporting ocelot recovery through the reintroduction of additional populations in South Texas."
— East Foundation
"Our scientists have been studying ocelots for 40 years. The goal of our ocelot research has always been to ensure that ocelots remain a part of the South Texas landscape forever. CKWRI is honored to be joining this project’s partnership to recover ocelots in South Texas. CKWRI’s role is to provide the best scientific information on ocelot ecology and management. This information is necessary to formulate policy and to implement conservation actions that will support ocelot recovery."
— Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute