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 range 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.
“East Foundation has worked with federal, state, university, and private partners to develop a plan to reintroduce ocelots back into part of their historic (but now unoccupied) range in Texas. Part of our planning effort included ensuring that private landowners, including East Foundation, can actively participate in a desirable conservation activity without jeopardizing their ability to manage their land for multiple benefits. The Safe Harbor Agreement provides private landowners with that assurance. Now that the Safe Harbor Agreement is approved, East Foundation and partners will begin to develop a source stock of ocelots to use for the reintroduction. We’ve made strides through the Recover Texas ocelots process so far and take great pride in what we’ve accomplished with our partners— there’s so much to look forward to as we work to recover Texas ocelots.”
— East Foundation
"Our scientists have been studying ocelots for 40 years, and we have built some serious momentum to see the recovery of this rare and charismatic cat. By providing the best scientific information on ocelot ecology and management, CKWRI will help formulate policy and implement conservation actions such that ocelots will forever remain a part of the South Texas landscape."
— Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute
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