Classification and Range
Ocelots belong to the family Felidae, which includes 36 species of cats. Ocelots are classified under the genus Leopardus. Leopardus includes three species of "small cats," the ocelot, margay and little spotted cat. Felis pardalis is still an accepted scientific name for the ocelot. There are 11 subspecies of ocelots. They are distributed throughout Mexico, Central and South America to northern Argentina, with remnant populations still in the southwestern United States.
Ocelots are found in several different kinds of habitats, from jungle areas and tropical rain forests to dry scrub and chaparral zones. They prefer marshes and riverbanks to open country.
Head and Body Length
Adult length (including tail): 2-4.5 feet (60.9 - 137.2 cm).
Adult weight: 24-35 pounds (11-16 kg); females slightly less.
About 10-13 years in the wild; up to 20 years in zoos.
In the wild: Young deer and peccaries, monkeys, birds, reptiles, fish, rabbits and small rodents.
At the zoo: Ground turkey, quail, chicks, mice, rats and commercially prepared feline diet. Occasionally they are given knuckle bones and rabbit. The ocelots are fed live trout twice a week as enrichment.
Ocelots sexually mature at about 20-24 months. Mating in the wild or in captivity may occur at any time, usually once or twice a year. Gestation lasts about 70 days. Female ocelots usually give birth to one to four kittens, averaging two young per litter. Females give birth in well protected areas such as a dense thorn thicket or hollow tree.
Ocelot kittens are highly reliant upon their mother for survival, and the mother cares for her young alone. When it becomes necessary for her to hunt, the mother will conceal the litter in a den surrounded by thick shrubs. Kittens are dependent on their mother for five to six months. At around 6 months of age, kittens start to practice hunting techniques alongside their mother, but they will not hunt alone until 18-24 months of age. By that time, they are ready to leave their mother's side to look for their own territory and mate.
Ocelots are solitary animals who occupy small, exclusive areas of land, approximately 20 square miles (52 sq km). They mark their territory with urine and scent markings. Male ocelot ranges are often larger than that of a female. Male ocelots avoid other male ocelot territories; however, they will overlap into other female ranges. Although individuals roam and hunt separately, research indicates that ocelots will frequently contact one another and probably maintain a network of social ties. The ocelot communicates by meows, and during courtship, yowls in a manner similar to that of a domestic cat.
Out at Night
Ocelots have a strong body with short, sleek hair. They have an extraordinary sense of vision at low light levels, as well as an acute sense of smell and hearing. It is not surprising then, that ocelots are nocturnal hunters. However, they will sometimes venture out during the day for a drink of water. Ocelots do most of their hunting on the ground, their slender bodies enabling them to capture prey in the thickest thorn brush. Although they are mainly ground hunters, ocelots will expertly climb trees for birds or squirrels, and can easily swim in rivers and ponds for fish.
Location at the Zoo
Woodland Park Zoo's ocelots are located in the Tropical Rain Forest building exhibit.
Ocelots are an endangered species. They are still in high demand for the fur industries in Europe and Asia, which leads to abuse of the already existing laws protecting ocelots and other small cats. Ocelot numbers are also decreasing rapidly as a result of habitat destruction and the black market pet trade. Threatened throughout their entire range, ocelots are also becoming exceedingly rare in several areas. In the U.S., ocelots once ranged throughout the southwest from Arizona to Louisiana, yet now less than 100 ocelots are estimated to be left in Texas.
Since 1973, 21 ocelots have been born at Woodland Park Zoo. Most have been sent to other zoos to mate with other unrelated ocelots. Since the future of the ocelot is uncertain, zoos with breeding pairs play an important role in the ocelot's survival. Woodland Park Zoo also participates in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums' (AZA) Felid Taxon Advisory Group. The primary focus of this group is to establish a Species Survival Plan (SSP) for the ocelot, which will help manage the captive population in North America for research and education. Additionally, the zoo seeks to encourage and assist in the conservation of the ocelot in its territories of origin, including the highly endangered Texas subspecies.
How You Can Help!
The effort to save endangered species requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Please do not buy products made from wild animal parts. Contact your elected representatives and express your views about conservation of endangered species and wild habitats.
Contact Woodland Park Zoo at firstname.lastname@example.org find out other ways you can support conservation programs at the zoo. Discover more about endangered cats by calling the International Society for Endangered Cats, Inc. at 1-800-465-6384 or (403) 279-5892 or at their Web site at www.wildcatconservation.org. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.
Sources and Suggested Reading
Alderton, David. 1993. Wild Cats of the World. Facts On File, Inc., New York, NY. 192 p.
Sleeper, Barbara. 1995. Wild Cats of the World. Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, NY. 216 p.
Resnick, Jane P. 1994. Cats. Kidsbooks, Inc., Chicago, IL. 29 p.Zoobooxks. 1993.
Little Cats. Wildlife Education, Ltd., San Diego, CA. 16 p.
Guggisberg, C.A.W. 1975. Wild cats of the world. Taplinger Publications, New York, NY. 328 p.
Kitchener, Andrew. 1991. Natural History of Wild Cats. Christopher Helm Mammal Series, London. 280 p.
Nowak, Ronald M., ed. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. 5th edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London. 1,629 p.
Bragin, Nanette. 1994. North American regional studbook, ocelot (Felis pardalis)
Texas Agricultural Experiment Station