Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) were at risk of extinction as recently as the 1980s, but that no longer is true. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species currently calls these streamlined felines a species "of least concern." This means that the ocelot population is believed to be strong enough that they won't go extinct any time soon.
Ocelots are smallish nocturnal wild cats particularly common in Central America, although they also live in parts of the United States and South America. They're considerably bigger than domestic cats, they're a lot smaller than other wild cats such as jaguars, with typical mature lengths of between 28 and 35 inches and weights of 24 to 35 pounds. Colorwise, ocelots are usually grayish-red or pale yellow, with conspicuous dark markings throughout their coats. They differ from the majority of other cats in that they have no fear of water and are actually adept swimmers.
Although ocelots' numbers are going down in certain areas, they're in no danger of going extinct in the near future. Habitat destruction is contributing to drops in numbers for some ocelot subpopulations. Their numbers are extremely low in Texas, for example. Continuing habitat ruination could also have a dire effect on their numbers in sections of Brazil and Argentina, specifically the Misiones Green Corridor. In many parts of their geographic scope, however, ocelots are the most numerous felines around. Ocelots can manage well in many types of living environments, notably tropical forests, wetlands, arid scrublands and grasslands. They typically gravitate to settings with ample heavy vegetation.
Ocelots don't have endangered status, but that doesn't mean they're free of threats. Loss of habitat requires that ocelots extend their roaming grounds to track down sufficient prey. Larger territories limit ocelots' opportunities to breed -- they encounter other ocelots less when their ranges are spread wider. The organization Defenders of Wildlife guesses that there are between 800,000 and 1.5 million ocelots alive globally.
Other Issues for Ocelots
Ocelots' smooth coats have made them prized by hunters. Hunting ocelots is against the law in many parts of their stomping grounds, but they still occasionally experience poaching. Ocelot fur hunting was in the past a serious epidemic. It almost brought the species to extinction in the middle of the 1980s, although they bounced back well once their fur trade died down. Ocelots are still occasionally illegally collected for sale as pets. Farmers sometimes kill ocelots because of their penchants for going after poultry, as well.
- Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens: Ocelot
- San Diego Zoo Animals: Ocelot
- Defenders of Wildlife: Ocelot
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Leopardus Pardalis
- World Association of Zoos and Aquariums: Ocelots
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Leopardus Pardalis
- San Diego Zoo Library: Ocelot Fact Sheet
- Defenders of Wildlife: Basic Facts About Ocelots
- Texas Parks & Wildlife: Ocelot
- Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Getty Images