Saving Ocelots and Their Spots in South Texas

Sihil the ocelot shows off her spots at the Ocelot Conservation Festival (Photo: Shasta Bray)
Sihil the ocelot shows off her spots at the Ocelot Conservation Festival (Photo: Shasta Bray)

In the United States, ocelots once roamed throughout Texas and into Arkansas and Louisiana. Today, fewer than 80 wild ocelots remain in the country, deep in South Texas. One of two known Texas populations survives on the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (LANWR). Since 1997, Friends of LANWR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have held an annual Ocelot Conservation Festival to encourage the local community to help protect ocelots. Since 2007, the Zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program has travelled to Texas with Sihil, an ocelot ambassador, to participate in the festival each year. Nothing impacts the audience more than seeing a real live ocelot. This is often the first time residents have experienced a live ocelot.

In addition, Zoo staff members, Dr. Bill Swanson and Shasta Bray, serve as the Ocelot Species Survival Plan (SSP) Coordinator and the Ocelot SSP Education Advisor, respectively, to support the work of the USFWS and its partners to protect ocelots in South Texas. USFWS monitors the ocelot population and protects and restores thorn scrub habitat. They also work with the Texas Department of Transportation to install under-road wildlife crossings to help keep ocelots off the roads as vehicles pose the greatest immediate threat to Texas ocelots. In the future, USFWS plans to translocate ocelots within Texas and from Mexico to bring much needed genetic diversity to the small population.


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