The ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) is a small wild cat species that currently occurs from South America up to the southern tip of Texas and sometimes Arizona in the United States. In 1982, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classified ocelots as endangered in the U.S. under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Historically, ocelots’ range in the U.S. extended throughout Arizona, Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. However, historic overexploitation from unregulated hunting and trapping plus destruction or loss of habitat left ocelots vulnerable to extirpation in the U.S. Today, resident breeding ocelots in the U.S. number fewer than 100 in the wild. All of these breeding individuals occur in deep south Texas near the Gulf of Mexico. Due to their low numbers, ocelots in the U.S. are threatened by low genetic diversity caused by inbreeding. This leaves them vulnerable to the negative impacts of genetic defects and diseases. Further, because ocelots in Texas all live in low-level coastal areas, some worry that the viability of the entire existing U.S. breeding ocelot population and its habitat could be destroyed by a single 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."
— Project Partner, 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."
— Project Partner, Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute