RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas – History has been made, for the first time ever an ocelot has been documented crossing thru a wildlife underpass.
Deep South Texas is the only place in the United States with a wild breeding population of ocelots. Biologists estimate only 80 of the endangered cats remain in the remnants of thick thorn brush in southernmost Texas.
The primary cause of ocelot fatalities are road kills, and in a joint effort between the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Texas Department of Transportation a dozen ocelot underpasses have been constructed in the Rio Grande Valley.
Dr. Hilary Swarts, Wildlife Biologist with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, has been instrumental in creating and monitoring the recently constructed crossings.
“The first week of February our intern Chris Hickling collected photos from the underpasses, from the cameras on the underpasses, and as he reviewed them he was very excited to find the first ever ocelot using an underpass in documented history.”
The underpasses were constructed in stages and completed in the summer of 2019 with eight of them linking units of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge east of Rio Hondo on Highway 106.
“We have been waiting with bated breath to have one of the ocelots actually go thru there.” said Dr. Swarts.
On January 25 the male ocelot wearing a tracking collar made the historic crossing.
Dr. Swarts, “We have some great photos of him first at the opening, looking up at the opening, and then heading right in there, no hesitation and coming out the other side.”
Ocelots aren’t the only wildlife using the crossings.
“We have seen alligators, armadillos, bobcats, coyotes, you name it we have seen all kinds of wildlife making use of these underpasses which is great in terms of protecting wildlife in general and in terms of motorist safety.” added Dr. Swarts.