Saying Goodbye to Sihil the Ocelot

Posted September 13, 2021 by Linda Castaneda
Sihil with Dr. Bill Swanson on the Today Show

On Saturday the Cat Ambassador Program (CAP) team said farewell to another icon in the Cat Ambassador Program. Sihil, our 21-year-old ocelot, was humanely euthanized due to a decline in her health.  Sihil was not only an amazing ambassador but she was also a scientific feat! She was the first exotic cat born of a frozen embryo, a CREW success story.  Due to her groundbreaking birth, Sihil was featured on the Today Show with Dr. Bill Swanson as a kitten and they maintained a friendship throughout Sihil’s life.

Sihil was one of our most consistent ambassadors, she was a very confident and bold cat and she excelled at school programs.  She would wow any audience with her amazing climbing skills; ocelots are only one of three species that can rotate their back ankles and do a controlled climb in a downward position.  Sihil was a staple at school programs, but she also made appearances around the zoo and at zoo events.  She allowed us to tell the story of global cat conservation, the groundbreaking work of The Lindner Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife’s (CREW) team and the story of our native cat species who can be found in the United States.

In 2008 we were approached by US Fish & Wildlife who asked if it would be possible for us to bring Sihil to the Ocelot Conservation Festival on the tip of Southern Texas (essentially at the border of US and Mexico). Though it was always quite the undertaking, Sihil was a good traveler and we could not pass up the opportunity to contribute to the further education and conservation of the ocelot.  Sihil was always a great ambassador for her species, we would arrive early before the festival so she could attend educational talks for Border Patrol Agents and Fish & Wildlife officers, many of whom had never seen a live ocelot.

During her 21 years of life, Sihil’s reach was immense. She was an impressive ambassador who always mesmerized and inspired audiences.  Behind the scenes, Sihil was a feisty and vivacious ocelot. She always had her favorite humans and would often test her boundaries, especially with the newest members of the team. She kept everyone on their toes and taught the CAP team (occasionally the hard way) that sometimes the small cats are the ones that will be the most challenging.  Sihil was also a very vocal ocelot- you could often hear her engaging with her enrichment, sometimes while letting out a traditional ocelot “maaaawr”, a low guttural vocalization that we would often attempt to repeat back to her.  She was always interested in new objects, walks with her favorite trainers and exploring new places.

We will miss her tenacity but forever appreciate being able to work with such a dynamic individual.  Through Sihil we gained an understanding of ocelot behavior, learned the challenges of the ocelot plight in the American southwest (and she helped give us the platform to contribute and make a difference in ocelot conservation) and sharpened our skills as animal caregivers and trainers.  She was a great teacher and a phenomenal ambassador- her presence will be greatly missed but her impact will not be forgotten.