The ocelot is the best known of the South American cats. It is a sleek animal with a gorgeous dappled coat. Ocelots range in colour from light yellow to reddish grey with dark spots and stripes. They have dark stripes on their cheeks and their tails have rings of dark fur. The underside is light and the backs of the ear have a central yellow spot. They are twice the size of the average house cat. Though closer in size to the house cat, ocelots possess the ferocity and tenacity of much larger wild felines.
FACT 1: They are sometimes called the dwarf leopard. Their range includes all countries in South America (except Chile), Central America, and Mexico. They are even found as far north as Texas and on the islands of Trinidad and Margarita. They are found mostly in the rain forests of South America, but can also live in, thick bush, costal marsh, semi desert and along river banks. However they are never found in open land. They can adapt to human habitation and are sometimes found in the vicinity of villages.
FACT 2: They are nocturnal animals. They have keen eyesight and hearing. The hunt rabbits, rodents, iguana, fish, snakes and frogs. They can even bring down young deer .They climb trees and stalk birds and monkeys. Unlike the house cat they do not avoid water.
FACT 3: Ocelots are adapted for eating meat. They have pointed fangs, used to deliver the killing bite. Their sharp back teeth can tear food like a scissors. As their teeth are not appropriate for chewing, they tear the food into pieces and swallow it whole. They have a raspy tongue and can clean a bone of every last morsel.
FACT 4: Ocelots weigh between 17 and 24 pounds. They are about 16 to 20 inches tall and between 48 and 64 inches in length. They live only 7 to 10 years in the wild but up to 20 years in captivity.
FACT 5: Ocelots are solitary territorial animals. The female fiercely defends a territory of about 9.5 square miles, while a male’s territory is much larger (up to 35 sq. miles) and overlaps the territory of more than one female. They communicate by purrs hisses, snarls calls and growls. They also communicate by leaving scent markings.
FACT 6: Females litter 2 or 3 darkly coloured kitten after a gestation period of 79 to 85 days. The cubs weigh about 8.5 oz. at birth. In Northern locations females den in autumn but in tropical climes the season is not fixed. Female mature at about 18months and males at 2 and half years.
FACT 7: Today ocelots are quite rare. Excessive hunting and habitat destruction have drastically reduced their range and population. They are an endangered species and are protected by most of the countries in which they live including the US.
FACT 8: They have very fine fur. This makes them the target for hunters of the fur trade. In the 1980’s there were 200,000 ocelot killed a year for their fur. An ocelot fur coat, requiring the hide of 12 animals, fetched $40,000.Today this trade is banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)
FACT 9: Ocelots are highly strung and unpredictable, but also comic. This made them a much sought after pet. Pet ocelot were defanged, declawed and de-scented. In the 1980’s a live ocelot sold as a pet fetched up to $800,000. Today it is against the law to keep ocelot as pets.
FACT 10: One of the last wild populations of ocelot in the United States lives in the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Of the 80 to 120 ocelot left in the US, 30 to 40 live here.