Leopardus pardalis

Quick Bio for Ocelots:

Status: Least Concern
have from 1-3 kittens, usually 2
Weight: 8-16 kg
Diet: Carnivore

Physical description of Ocelots

The ocelot is known for its large eyes and distinctive markings on its face. In fact, these are individual, and so allow the identification of individuals. The black stripes on their cheeks and black ears are all subtly different.

The rest of their fur is a light cream or yellowy-brown or, simply put, just cat colored with what is nearly standard among cats, a lighter underside. The black patterns seem somewhat random but give them excellent camouflage. The tail is ringed, and the legs are striped.

At 10 to 15 kg, the ocelot is a relatively large cat and can be up to one meter in length. It is the largest of the American family of cats – Leopardus.

Distribution and habitat of Ocelots

The Ocelot is found from the Southern US down to South America. Their distribution isn’t even, with higher numbers found in Central America, the North of Brazil and the wetlands of Southern Brazil/Paraguay.

One of the reasons for this large distribution is their comfort in multiple habitats. Mountains don’t deter them, marshlands are not a problem, grasslands are fine, and arid areas are also acceptable. They prefer the tropical jungles and dense vegetation, which suits their hunting style best.

Ocelot behavior

The solitary aspect of the ocelot leads to each needing their own territory. While the territories of males overlap those of females, males strictly avoid encounters with other males.

Depending on the habitat, territories vary in size. Populations in denser jungle are often more productive and can support more animals compared to open grassland or areas transformed for agriculture.

Activity is generally at night. Ocelots are skilled climbers and frequently form dens in trees for protection during the day while they sleep. Ocelots are highly active cats, patrolling a large part of their territory, and are most likely to be seen during the dusk or dawn hours.

Sight and smell are used for hunting. The large eyes are clearly well-evolved for better nighttime viewing. Smells are also used for communication, with territory boundaries being well marked.

An ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) gracefully moves across a fallen tree. Like many other cats, they are primarily active during the night.
Licensed from Shutterstock
An ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) gracefully moves across a fallen tree. Like many other cats, they are primarily active during the night.

What do Ocelots eat?

Ocelots mostly hunt rodents. Small ones more commonly, despite being a relatively large cat. Sometimes though, they will take bigger prey and, if the opportunity arises, also birds and lizards. Like most successful hunters, they aren’t too picky.

While preferred prey is small, like cane mice and agoutis, the ocelot isn’t afraid of working hard for a deer or a squirrel monkey. Even anteaters and the hard-to-access tortoises are seen as a tasty treat if they are available.

Mating and Parental care of Ocelots

Given the extensive range of the ocelot, it is understandable that it gives birth at different times of the year. In the warmer tropical areas, they have kittens at any time of the year. Often, in the northern parts of their range, they give birth in the winter months.

After a roughly 3-month pregnancy, the ocelot gives birth to up to 3 kittens who stay with their mother for nine months. After six weeks, they are weaned, but the kittens still need to learn to hunt. Mastering these skills takes time, and the mother provides for them during this period. In fact, after nine months, they don’t always leave the mother’s range instantly. The female comes into oestrus once every two years so it isn’t a major issue having subadults around during the second year.

The male is a solitary animal, only joining the female for mating. While females tend to be solitary as well, a reproducing age cat will be looking after her young for most of the time.

An Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) mother shelters with her cub under a fallen log in the jungle, showcasing their natural camouflage and protective instincts.
Licensed from Shutterstock
An Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) mother shelters with her cub under a fallen log in the jungle, showcasing their natural camouflage and protective instincts.

Who preys on Ocelots?

The biggest threat to ocelots is humans, primarily through habitat destruction, but individuals also have to be aware of the larger cats in whose range they live. Jaguars and Puma are common throughout the ocelot’s range and, due to their greater size, are a danger.

How long do Ocelots live?

In the wild, ocelots can live up to 10 years.

Impact of Ocelots on the human economy

CITES banned the sale of ocelot furs and, more importantly, the cats themselves in the 1970s. Before that, the cat was a popular ‘pet,’ and its beautiful fur was much sought after in places such as the US. This culture has somewhat evolved. It is no longer acceptable to have fur in America, but exotic pets are still all too common, and trade in exotic species endangers the animals’ future. There is still work to be done. It must be remembered that while the West is at the forefront of Environmental and Wildlife protection, it is only our wealth that permits such an outlook on life.

In some areas, poultry has become a favorite food, being readily available. However, this is generally in areas where the natural prey has been reduced. The ocelot might be considered a pest in these areas, but from the ocelot’s point of view, the human degradation of its habitat is the root of the problem.

An Ocelot (leopardus pardalis) seems to feel upset about the human intruder, thus growls at the photographer.
Licensed from Shutterstock
An Ocelot (leopardus pardalis) seems to feel upset about the human intruder, thus growls at the photographer.

Conservation status and human impact on Ocelots

Ocelots are not considered threatened by the IUCN. However, threats do exist. Their numbers were severely reduced before CITES protected them. Their range is constantly under threat and has been significantly reduced from its original extent. For example, in the US, they are now only found in Southern Texas, despite having been previously present in the states bordering the massive Lone Star state, such as Arkansas. Just as an example, in the US, their range has recently been reduced by an area equal to the size of France.

The reduction in the trade in ocelot pelts and the reduction in trade of the cats as pets has led to their numbers in the wild recovering. They are now no longer considered threatened, but too much habitat destruction could push them in that direction again.

Other important information about Ocelots

The ocelot has multiple names in its range. The different Spanish dialects have multiple names for the cat.

Ocelot in French, German, Spanish ...

Latin Name
Leopardus pardalis
French Names
Ocelot
German Names
Ozelot
Spanish Names
Ocelote, Gato Onza, Manigordo, Tigrillo
Swahili Names
Oseloti

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