Their beauty has threatened their survival as a species. The ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) possesses a lustrous coat that ranges in color from golden yellow to gray with brown and black spots, stripes and rosettes. A medium-sized feline between 37 and 58 inches from head to tail and weighing around 25 pounds, ocelots are powerful cats for their size. “They’re the largest, most powerful cat in the Leopardus genus,” says Nancy Vandermey, who is on the board of directors at the Exotic Feline Breeding Compound’s Feline Conservation Center in Rosamond, Calif.
Ocelots aren’t as prolific at breeding as other cat species, having the fewest number of kittens per litter, often just one. They also only breed every other year.
Ocelot habitats vary from mangrove forests and coastal marshes to savanna grasslands and thorn scrubs to tropical forests, where they hunt small mammals, birds and reptiles. Their range includes Mexico, every Central American nation and every South American nation except Chile. A tiny population lives in Texas, and a few have been spotted recently in Arizona.
Because of their lustrous fur, ocelots were hunted and killed at the rate of about 200,000 per year in the 1950s, 60s and early 70s. Many were brought into the U.S. and sold as pets. “Hunters would kill the mother and take the cubs to sell in the U.S.,” Vandermey says. “They don’t have the personalities to be pets; they’re wild animals.”
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