National Wildlife Refuge System

Ocelots and More Ocelots

There are now 14 endangered ocelots at Laguna Atascosa Refuge in Texas.
Credit: USFWS

May 11, 2015 - A new juvenile ocelot was seen on trip camera photos in late March at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, TX – the fourth new ocelot to be seen in the past eight months on the refuge. The newest ocelot, trapped for the first time on April 25th and identified as female, is about 18 months old and was fitted with a radio collar to track her movements. She could begin breeding within the next year.

 

With additional ocelots discovered in the past year, there are now 14 of the rare cats on the refuge – six females, seven males and one seen in December whose sex is not yet known.

 

“This has been just amazing,” says a delighted refuge manager, Boyd Blihovde.  He has a theory for the apparent increase in ocelot discoveries.  The refuge’s wildlife drive has been closed to private vehicles since September 2013. The drive goes through prime ocelot habitat and will be reconfigured to avoid these areas before it is reopened to the public. It remains open to bikers, hikers and tram tours, but traffic has been reduced considerably, leaving the area more available to the ocelots.

 

Ocelot biologist Hilary Swarts also emphasized that population numbers have been slowly increasing in part because ocelots have not been killed on roads since July of last year. In the past, the addition of one new ocelot to the population could be negated by a single highway death. Construction is beginning soon for 15 wildlife crossings in ocelot habitat in deep south Texas, after coordination with the Texas Department of Transportation. State Highway 100 near the refuge, where the two most recent ocelot deaths have been recorded, will have four new wildlife crossings, with construction beginning in 2015.

 

A new juvenile ocelot was seen on trip camera photos in late March at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, TX – the fourth new ocelot to be seen in the past eight months on the refuge.
Credit: USFWS

Blihovde and Swarts also believe the weather is helping. “We have had amazing rainfall since fall,” explains Swarts. “The prey base seems very strong, so circumstances are favorable for an increase in successful breeding.” The availability of food could also help the young survive.

 

Laguna Atascosa Refuge has a steady team of interns who monitor the cameras and set traps to capture the cats, fit them with radio or GPS collars, and release them.

 

The new discoveries – especially when the ocelots are female – leave Swarts optimistic about recovering the cats. “There have been other endangered populations that got down to such low numbers and recovered.  Through the actions of agencies and private citizens and partners, we have that potential with the ocelots. I’m very hopeful.”

 

Follow ocelot photos and developments at the Friends of Laguna Atascosa Refuge Facebook page, Viva the Ocelot!

Last updated: May 11, 2015