HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) — South Texas is the only place in the United States with a breeding population of wild ocelots, and Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is home to a closely monitored population of the endangered cats.
Dr. Hilary Swarts, Wildlife Biologist with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, focuses on the rare refuge cats and has great news to share.
“This is really exciting. I have been here a little over seven years, and right now the population is at the highest level since I have been here. Right now we are counting 17 individuals which is great,” said Dr. Swarts.
And early observations from trail cameras and radio collar monitoring indicate the cats made it through the recent freezing temperatures.
The historic range of the ocelot once included most of Texas and portions of Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana, but habitat loss has left the cats with very little of the dense cover they require.
Approximately 80 ocelots are estimated to cling to a precarious existence scattered throughout the ranch country of southernmost Texas and on Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
In other positive news from the refuge, ocelots have been documented using wildlife underpasses that were completed one year ago by the Texas Department of Transportation to save the cats from being hit by vehicles.
Dr. Swarts said, “Very excitingly we have had two different adult males use these underpasses.”
The next step in recovery of the endangered ocelot is the ongoing effort to
bring in some fresh genetics from Mexico in the form of a female ocelot.
“I think we are really going to be turning our attention now to a much more focused effort on translocation,” said Dr. Swarts.
With a record population of refuge ocelots, successful wildlife crossings and genetic enhancement on the horizon…the outlook for ocelots is promising.
Dr. Swarts added, “I am optimistic for these cats. I think more and more people know about them and more and more people care about them.”