According to the International Species Information Service, only 217 ocelots exist in the world; out of these 108 are in the U.S. After a brief stint in the list of 'endangered animals' between 1972 and 1996, the species is now graded as 'at lower risk of extinction' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). While there do exist signs of ocelot population recovering, the unabated destruction of their native habitat continues to be a threat.
Ocelot Distribution and Habitat
Ocelots are found in forested areas at elevations as high as 1,200 meters (3,900 ft) in the southern United States as well as Central and South America. There is no characteristic location that can be described as ocelot habitat, as they are found in diverse ecosystems, including rainforests, montane forests, thick bush, semi-deserts, coastal marsh, and also along river banks.
It is true that ocelots are never found in open country, but they do hunt in open areas. After they have had their fill, they retreat into dense forests. They feed on animals like small rabbits, reptiles, lizards, rodents, iguanas, etc. Since they are good swimmers, they also feast on turtles, frogs, crabs, and fish. Interestingly, they have to swallow their food after tearing it, as they lack teeth that are specialized for chewing.
Very few ocelots are now left in swampy Savannah or scrub and forested areas of their native habitat. Towards north, they are found in Texas, Trinidad, and even in the Caribbean. Earlier, ocelots were noticed in Arizona, Louisiana, and Arkansas along with Texas, but these days, they are hardly seen in Arizona. And their sightings in dense thickets of southern Texas are also becoming increasingly rare.
It is believed that in Uruguay, they are on the verge of extinction. However, most of the Central and South American nations claim to have ocelots. These include Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Nicaragua, Suriname, and Venezuela.
Ocelots are solitary animals and therefore, are only seen in pairs during the breeding season. They are highly territorial in nature. A male ocelot usually owns a territory measuring 3.5 to 46 square kilometers, while a female declares herself the queen of her territory, which spans 0.8 to 15 square kilometers. Like various other animals, even ocelots mark their territories by spraying pungent urine or leaving behind strong-smelling feces. Mother ocelots are at times, seen with cubs near their caves in rocks or in grassy lands.
In captivity, ocelots have a lifespan of up to 20 years. In contrast, they only live for 7 - 10 years in the wild. These felines are far from safe even when they are in their natural habitat. Here they are threatened by poachers, who kill them for their coat. A considerable number of ocelots fall prey to car accidents on highways passing through their natural surroundings. And if at all, they do step out of their so-called comfort zone, then they are killed by humans and their dogs.
Protection and preservation of the declining and endangered animal species is essential to maintain the natural balances disrupted by recent human activities. Will someone please convey the message to those people who live in areas where ocelots flourished once upon a time?