Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

Trying to Make South Texas Safe for Endangered Ocelots

November 22, 2011, 11:09 am

There are fewer than 50 ocelots in the wild in the United States. This one was photographed using a remote night camera at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in south Texas. Credit: USFWSWildlife biologist Jody Mays gingerly approached the cage in the dense, thorny brush at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Peering out with gorgeous feline eyes was a healthy 14–year–old ocelot, trapped overnight as part of the refuge’s monitoring program. The ocelot seemed relaxed, but when, after a brief examination, Mays released the animal, it fled in a nanosecond with lightning speed and cat–like grace.

Speed clearly is an ocelot asset. However, as a newly placed sign near the refuge visitor center says, “speeding kills ocelots.” Automobile speeding. In the past year and a half, vehicles have killed four of the endangered cats on or near the refuge. The species can ill afford those mortalities, and the refuge is working with state and local highway officials to minimize deaths.

There are fewer than 50 ocelots in the wild in the United States. South Texas is the only place in the nation with a breeding population. There are 13 known ocelots, and up to a dozen unidentified, on or near Laguna Atascosa Refuge. There is a separate population of 20–25 ocelots on private ranch land considerably north of the refuge. The numbers are imprecise because ocelots are small (about twice the size of a house cat), nocturnal and highly elusive.

Mays—along with a temporary bio science technician, interns and volunteers—is working to recover the species. The biggest challenge is habitat connectivity, safe connectivity.

Read more at fws.gov.

Image: There are fewer than 50 ocelots in the wild in the United States. This one was photographed using a remote night camera at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in south Texas. Credit: USFWS