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Ocelot with focused expression in natural setting

Ocelots – also known as Leopardus Pardalis – are small cats that are often found in rainforests, such as the Amazon.

Ocelots have a decreasing population, primarily due to habitat loss, persecution, killing due to depredation of livestock, and illegal trade of pets and skins. Here at Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center, we rescue and rehabilitate quite a few baby ocelot kittens every year.

When possible, they are released back into the wild, but often they have physical or psychological challenges that prevent them from being able to survive in the wild. If we are not able to release them via our release sites, we provide life-time care for them in our animal sanctuary.

Follow our Facebook page to see the different kinds of environmental enrichment, we provide for our ocelots to keep them psychologically healthy and mentally stimulated. We maintain two nature reserves that serve as release sites where we provide a protected habitat for ocelots. Here are some interesting facts you may not know about ocelots…

What are ocelots?

An ocelot is a wild cat and the second largest spotted cat in South America (after the Jaguars, of course!). These cats live for roughly thirteen years in the wild, and up to twenty in captivity.

While these cats may look like small leopards, they are only distantly related and are most commonly identified by their distinct “chain rosette” coat pattern – a beautiful but somewhat costly characteristic. 

What is an ocelot’s size?

Being twice the size of an average house cat, an ocelot’s body size is around 28-35 inches long and 16-20 inches high. Female ocelots tend to be smaller than male ocelots, weighing around 14.5-25lbs compared to the average male weight of 15-34lbs. Male ocelots also tend to be longer than female ocelots.

Ocelot kittens

Most female ocelots have litters of one to three ‘kittens’ that stay with their mothers for up to two years before venturing into the wild. The gestation period is often around seventy-nine to eighty-five days before the female ocelot gives birth to kittens. These ocelot kittens usually weigh between seven and twelve ounces at birth and are often weaned by six weeks. This means they can feed by themselves while still in their mother’s care. On average, it takes a female ocelot kitten 18-22 months to mature, whereas a male kitten matures at around 30 months old.

Where do these ocelot wild cats live?

Ocelots are common here in Costa Rica, and their population is widely distributed across the US and Mexico, through Central America and into South America.

Ocelots in Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, these cats are one of six species of felids indigenous to the Central American country. They are most commonly found in National Parks.

Despite not being endangered, ocelots are protected, alongside other species, under the Wildlife Conservative Law No.7.317. Their biggest threat at the moment is urbanization, which is causing a continual decrease in their habitat. A recent study suggested that in Costa Rica, ocelots could be at risk because they are the second most common prey for jaguars; however, this has not proven to be a long-term threat to the species. 

What environments do wild Ocelots live in?

Wild ocelots can adapt to living in a variety of habitats, including coastal marshes, thorn scrubs, grasslands, and in both sub-tropical, mangrove and tropical forests. They can also adapt to human habitats.

At Rescate Wildlife Center, we often rescue and rehabilitate ocelots that have suffered injuries as a result of being hit by cars or are orphaned when their mothers are shot by hunters. We also care for six ocelots in our Life-time Care Sanctuary that have injuries that prevent them from being released back into the wild. 

The ocelots in the Life-time Care Sanctuary

There are six ocelots currently living in our Lifetime Care Sanctuary. All of these ocelots, including Bonita and Platina who were once living in the wild, but due to human interference, are not fit to be released back into the wild.  Bonita, came to us when she was just an ocelot kitten. Unfortunately, someone was keeping Bonita as a pet and did not feed her properly, thus she suffers from crippling metabolic bone disease and cannot walk properly. Platina, came to us as an adult and was hit by a car. Her leg was so badly damaged that the veterinary surgeons had to put it back together using a surgical steel plate. 

What food do Ocelots cats eat?

Like most ‘wild’ cats, ocelots use their impressive sight and hearing to hunt for prey animals and their sharp teeth and claws to tear their prey into swallowable portions. They most commonly hunt for rabbits, fish, and rodents. It costs roughly $55 to feed one ocelot for a month, meaning your donations are very important.

What are common ocelot traits?

Also, like house cats, each ocelot has its own individual characteristics and personality, but they do share some common quirky traits too.

Instead of roaring like a lion, or hissing like a house cat, these wildcats chuckle and mutter to one another as a means of communication. They are known for their territorial nature, and often mark their territory by leaving their scent behind through urination. This trait is very interesting for conservationists. When ocelots mark their territory, they do so as a form of communication and to attract other ocelots. The study showed that other mammals were also attracted to these latrines left by ocelots; however, it is unknown whether this has been a result of intentional communication, or mammals simply exploring the habitats of others. This helps scientists keep track and monitor ocelots as well as other mammalian species. An experiment in Costa Rica found that thirteen other species were attracted to these ocelot latrines, which suggested that the latrines might be used as a form of communication between species.

As felines are often solitary, leaving a scent mark is an effective way for ocelots to identify the locations of one another, with many male ocelots visiting latrines previously visited by female ocelots who may be ready to mate.  In a six month period, sixteen ocelots paid sixty-three visits to the latrines, helping  them become associated with fellow ocelots.

Ocelots are also very intelligent and showcase this in the way they hunt. Renowned as the most acrobatic hunting cat (check out the ocelot night hunting sequence on Netflix’s Night On Earth), once caught, they often hide uneaten prey to consume at a later time. They are very active nocturnal creatures, traveling up to an impressive five miles each night. 

Male ocelots are very protective over their territory when it comes to interacting with other males and aim to keep them away through scent dropping, leaving feces along the trails and through clawing logs.

Types of Ocelots

 Ocelots are referred to by a variety of common names, including ‘grey ocelot’, ‘tree ocelot’ (which are in fact another species, called Margay, ‘snow ocelot’, ‘spotted ocelot’, and ‘white ocelot’.

Why do these cats need our help?

Even though their total population ranges between 800,000 to 1.5 million, according to Defenders of Wildlife, ocelots are at risk of becoming endangered in some regions: they are already listed as being at risk of being endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In Mexico and the US, the ocelot population is now listed as endangered, and populations of ocelots in Colombia, Argentina, and areas of Brazil outside the Amazon basin have been listed as vulnerable.

Shockingly, there are currently only fifty-eighty individual ocelots in the state of Texas, as a result of ocelots having to travel across roads to reach suitable habitats, which are very spread out across the state as a result of urbanization.

Fortunately, the IUCN does not currently regard the ocelots as an endangered species, meaning there is still time for the ocelot population to recover.

However, in Costa Rica, a study conducted in 2013, found indications that the subspecies of ocelot in the Talamanca Mountain Range diverges genetically from the South American subspecies. More information is needed to determine if this is a distinct subspecies, as these ocelots are quite rare, and their range very limited. 

These cats have faced multiple threats, including having their habits destroyed as a result of logging and being victims of vehicular accidents as areas become increasingly urbanized. The continuation of the illegal pet trade is also an ongoing issue, with ocelots being sold to tourists and animal dealers in markets across Central and South America. Ocelot mothers with kittens are often killed so the kittens can be easily collected and sold, thereby further reducing the ocelot population size. Ocelots have a history of being hunted for their fur, with an ocelot coat being valued at $40,000 during the 1960s-1980s.

Luckily, a 1989 act introduced import bans on spotted cats’ species, and most countries have also implemented bans on hunting wild cats including, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

What can you do to help?

Here at Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center, we want to ensure ocelots have a future.

We provide a protected habitat for Ocelots at both of our Release Sites here in Costa Rica. You can help ocelots by visiting the rescue center and come to see our ocelots for yourself. All funding generated by visits goes into the center and the welfare of our animals. When the ocelots we rehabilitate are ready to leave the Rehabilitation Center, we prefer to place tracking collars on them so we can monitor their progress and safety. Collars are expensive, but with your help, we can give these beautiful animals the future they deserve! 

You can also donate to help save ocelots by ensuring that wildlife rescue centers like Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center can rescue and release ocelots in our Rehabilitation Center and also provide care for non-releasable ocelots in our Life-time Care Sanctuary. You can also volunteer to help the ocelots who live in our Lifetime Care Sanctuary and make their lives more comfortable, fulfilling, and exciting!

If you want to see beautiful and playful ocelots up close and help these animals at the same time, come and visit the Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center in Costa Rica. Not only do you have a chance to see these fantastic wildcats, but your visit also helps maintain the center and the care for the animals.


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