Most people will know very little about the Leopardus Pardalis, more commonly known as the Ocelot. Do not be misled by its other name, dwarf leopard (Others even like to own it their ocelot pet). It is by no means a dwarf, at least not compared to the domesticated cat. This Latina kitty is mainly from South America, and is commonly found in practically every country like Mexico, Trinidad, Margarita, and Central America, with Chile being the only exception. Although it can look a lot like the domestic cat, it actually belongs to the big cats group, and is just about as wild as the cheetah and the tiger.
The ocelot, however, is not as common as its other feline family members. Ask any kid, for example, to describe what a lion or a tiger looks like, and most likely they’ll know what to say. They might even be able to draw one for you. Pop culture has also made them more popular, with movies like Disney’s The Lion King, and Katy Perry’s hit song, Roar. Ocelots are far rarer, and are an endangered species. In Southern Texas in the US, there are probably less than 50 left alive. In the entire world: just a little over 200.
What do we need to know about these beautiful cats? Here are 10 facts about them:
The Ocelot is an exotic spotted cat.
It looks very much like the Margay and the Oncilla, but larger in size (up to 20 inches tall, about 39 to 64 inches long, and weighing as much as 40 lbs). It has smooth soft fur with red-brown, sometimes gray-black rosettes that blend out to bands or stripes. What also makes the Ocelot unique are two distinct ocelli, or white spots behind their ears, and the sides of their faces striped with two black bands.
Like many of its relatives, the Ocelot is nocturnal.
And being the wild cat that they are, they have big paws with sharp claws, and fangs, and are known to be territorial, unpredictable, and may be easily stressed. Their natural habitats include areas that are dense with plants and trees, like mountains, rainforests, river banks, or even semi-desert areas. They like to climb trees and hunt at night.
Unlike lions that live in prides, ocelots are solitary creatures.
Females will often have their territory exclusive to themselves, and they will fight and defend it fiercely. The males will often let their territory cross over a one or two females’ territory for mating purposes, although the females will emit scent markers to let the males know when to, and when not to mate. Ocelots have a language all their own, with other mating rituals including cat calls like purrs, hisses, and meows.
They mark their territory.
To mark their territory, they are known to spray strong and foul-smelling urine on trees, rocks, bushes, and basically anything and everything they like, including human handlers, zoo keepers, and pet owners.
Ocelots can live anywhere from 7-10 years out in the wild.
They feed mostly on other nocturnal creatures that are smaller than them, like mice and other rodents, rats, armadillos and opossums, as well as bigger prey like monkeys, deer, and larger land tortoises. They’ve also been reported to take on seafood like crabs and fish. Their diet is varied, though, and they will also feed on reptiles like lizards, and birds.
Because of conservation efforts, they tend to live longer in captivity.
Some of them live for up to over 20 years. These animals have barely been seen in the wild animal market for the last few years. Most conservation efforts are being done by zoos in Brazil, and some zoos in North America.
Ocelots have become very rare because of a few reasons.
The most obvious reason is probably deforestation, and the destruction of their natural habitat. With the growth and expansion of cities and rural areas, forested areas have been destroyed, leaving these animals with no natural shelter and grounds for hunting and feeding.
These unique and rare cats were once hunted for their precious fur.
Their fur was in demand in the fashion industry, especially around the 1980s. Back then, winter coats made from their chain-blotched fur, which was lighter or paler on the center of the spots, could cost a fashionista up to $40,000. As many as 200,000 of these beauties have been killed every year for the sake of making a fashion statement.
The ocelots were also wanted as pets!
With kittens possessing an unbelievable cuteness factor. Since the 1950’s and the 1960s, older kittens and adult cats have been violated, with their fangs and claws removed, and their natural scents neutralized to make them more commercial, and easy to sell. In the early 1980s, a live ocelot could set you back about $800, but now that there are laws disallowing these dwarf leopards to be traded, their price tags can be as heavy as $15,000. What they buyers of live ocelots often failed to see is that when bought as pets, these wild cats will have to rely on their keepers for the rest of their lives for care. And a lot of the animal traders and buyers alike did not have enough know-how or discipline to take responsibility for the proper care of ocelots.
Ocelots can only have a litter of one or two kitties when they give birth.
Also unlike the domestic cat, which can produce a litter of up to 5 or 6 kittens at a time, ocelots can only have a litter of one or two kitties each time they give birth. Mortality rate is also high, especially among new born kittens. According to Executive Director of Conservators’ Center, Inc. with only few places left to live out there in the wild, ocelots are also having a hard time looking for mates.
Although there are still ocelots in the world, their numbers are quickly diminishing, and ethical treatment of these endangered wild cats is a must if we would still like to see them roam the earth in the next generations. Today, scientists, conservation experts, governments, and even private owners are banding together to help save the rare beauty that is the ocelot.