Save Texas Ocelots: Rewilding Advocates Hope To Bolster Dwindling Population Of The Small Cats In South Texas

The ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) is a medium sized cat facing hard times in the United States. Once common in Texas and surrounding states their numbers have dropped to about 100. But efforts to save Texas ocelots from inbreeding and extinction are underway.

One of he ideas under study is to capture males and obtain sperm before releasing them. The sperm would be used to impregnate captive females. The resulting kittens would then be eligible for training and wild release. So far, the absentee mating has not proven successful, but researchers are hopeful.

Honey , an ocelot whose stage name was Bruce. The declawed cat was a featured performer in the series Honey West in the 1960’s,. The detective series starred Anne Francis who allegedly disliked Honey because the cat nipped at her Photo

According to Britannica:

“Though larger than domestic cats, ocelots are small compared to jaguars. Adults measure about 70–90 cm (28–35 inches) long, not including the tail, and stand about 45 cm (18 inches) at the shoulder. They weigh 11–16 kg (24–35 pounds), with females being generally smaller than males”.

The cats are mostly terrestrial but are good climbers and swimmers. Ocelots are largely silent and mostly nocturnal. The cats eat birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and rodents. Females begin to produce litters of up to three kittens at two years of age. To save Texas ocelots activists will have to have cooperation from local ranchers. Many of the surviving cats live on ranchland. So far the response has been good and ranchers work to save Texas ocelots.

Ocelot or Leopard-Cat (Felis pardalis)
Ocelot or Leopard-Cat (Felis pardalis) by New York Public Library is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0 Ocelots have a wide prey base.

Rewilding is a major component of modern conservation. It usually refers to reintroducing an animal that has been absent in an area for some time. Cheetahs are being returned into India and Jaguars into parts of South America. Most of these animals are wild animals captured and released in a new suitable home with prey they are used to hunting. A second, more difficult approach, is to “re-wild” a captive animal and make it suitable for re-introduction into the wild. Tigers in China are very close to extinction. Save China’s Tigers is attempting to prepare captive tigers for release into suitable areas:

According to the website:


“We use the term “rewilding” to refer to a process by which captive-born tigers learn to survive on their own in large natural enclosures and then are eventually returned to a protected natural environment. Rewilding was necessary in the case of the South China tiger  because there were no known wild South China tigers when the project began – Chinese zoos were the only source of South China tigers.. When they first arrived in South Africa, the two cubs did not recognize a carcass as food. The cubs also had to become familiar with a natural environment.

Our rewilding protocol moves tigers between various enclosures for breeding, rewilding and monitoring. Blesbok (a deer-like ungulate) was chosen as principle prey because it is easily managed within fences, readily available from local game farms, and is comparable in size to native prey in China. Blesbok are released into hunting enclosures and allowed time to become accustomed to the terrain before tigers are released into the enclosure.”

Project Cheetah in India and efforts in south America for jaguars work along similar lines.

Reluctant co-stars? Body language and expression suggest a lack of affinity between Anne Francis and “Bruce” the ocelot, stars of Honey West.

Another approach has been attempted by South African filmmaker John Varty. Varty has spent several decades attempting to create a free tiger population in South Africa. This would be the first tiger population outside Asia. He was mauled by one of the animals in 2012. There are believed to be about 18 tigers in the project. The project is called Tiger Canyon .

Ocelots may be slightly familiar to American Baby Boomers due to the television series Honey West. Honey West was a woman detective and an ocelot was featured as her companion. The series lasted one year in the mid-60’s on ABC.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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