In the United States, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is where you are most likely to see an ocelot, one of six cat species found in North America. Ocelots once ranged throughout most of Texas up into Arkansas and Louisiana but today there are an estimated 80 ocelots that remain in the United States, including a breeding population found on the refuge.
Ocelots are different from most other cat species in that they can turn their ankle joints around which allows them to literally climb ‘down’ a tree. This important self-defense mechanism lets them escape from predators like mountain lion or bobcat, species of cats that cannot retract their claws (and must figure out how to get out of the tree they just climbed). Unlike most other cats, ocelots are also good swimmers.
These small cats need a lot of space. Male ocelots typically have a territory of about 25 square miles, while the females’ territory is around nine square miles. To warn other ocelots to stay away, they mark their territories in many ways, including spraying urine or leaving feces. Males in particular are very protective of their territories and will defend them to the death.
In South Texas, the ocelots’ diet consists mostly of rabbits, mice, rats and birds. They are nocturnal and like to travel under the cover of darkness. In the daytime, they rest often in the branches or hollow of a tree. The South Texas brush is made up of thorny and dense plants. Though it looks uninviting and painful to humans, to ocelots the thick brush means protection from danger, shade from the heat, shelter for sleeping, dens for having kittens and a place to call home
Females reach sexual maturity at about 18 months of age and the males at about 30 months. The female prepares a den in the protective cover of the thick and thorny brush and will give birth every other year to a litter of one or two kittens. She will raise the kittens who will stay with their mother for up to two years, at which point they will leave to establish their own territories.
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