Although in the 60's and 70's, ocelots were hunted relentlessly for their beautiful pelts with one estimate putting the yearly worldwide harvest at 200,000, the biggest threat to their survival today is habitat destruction. In many areas throughout their range, the heavy cover that they require to hide and hunt is being cleared and new roads keep their populations restricted. They are at some risk throughout most of their territory.
The ocelot mates year-round. About 70 days after mating the female gives birth to one to three young. The female makes a den in the brush. She leaves the kittens at night to hunt for food, but she spends the day with them. The kittens begin hunting with their mother when they are about three months old. The kittens may stay with the mother for up to a year.
The ocelot eats mice, rabbits, rats, birds, snakes, lizards, fish and frogs. The ocelot is solitary, but sometimes hunts with another ocelot. It calls to its hunting partner with meows that sound like a house cat's call. The ocelot hunts most of its prey on the ground, but sometimes catches birds in trees.
Ocelots are strongly nocturnal, resting in trees or dense brush during the day. Ocelots are very active, traveling from one to five miles per night. Males usually travel further than females. They capture an average of one prey item for every 3.1 hours of travel.
Males occupy territories of 4-18 square km that may encompass the territories of one or more females, who use home ranges of 2-11 square km.
The species occupies a wide spectrum of habitats including mangrove forests and coastal marshes, savanna grasslands and pastures, thorn scrub, and tropical forest of all types - primary, secondary, evergreen, seasonal and montane, although it typically occurs at elevations below 1,200 m.
The ocelot is widely distributed from the extreme south of the United States, through Central and South America, and as far south as northern Argentina, occurring in every country except Chile. In the United States, the species once ranged into Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona, but a remnant population is now confined to southern Texas, with individuals only occasionally crossing into Arizona from Mexico.
An estimated 800,000 to 1.5 million are found worldwide. 80 to 120 are found in two isolated populations in southeast Texas.
Males are generally larger than females weighing between 30-40 pounds while the females generally weigh between 20-30 pounds. Ocelots have 30 teeth in their mouths and incredible bite strength for such a small cat.
The short, sleek fur varies in colour from tawny yellow, to reddish, to grey, and is marked with both solid black spots and open, dark-centered rosettes, which often run in parallel chains along the side of the body, the typical pattern of the species. The head bears black spots, two black stripes on each cheek, and a prominent white spot on the back of the otherwise black ears. There are also parallel black stripes on the neck, on which, unusually, the fur grows ‘reversed’, slanting forwards. The underparts are white, with one or two black bars on the insides of the legs, while the tail is banded and spotted with black. Each individual ocelot has a unique coat pattern.