FortWorthZoo Blog – Expedition: Education

A little cat with some big problems

This endangered species needs our help!

A Brush with Two Ocelots in South Texas

Apr. 20th | Posted by 9 comments

I was driving along in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in south Texas this weekend and pulled over to see if I could spy any animals. And boy did I hit the jackpot! Out of the corner of my eye I saw two pairs of eyes peering out from the brush. Those eyes belonged to two cats that were almost twice the size of my pet cat at home. They had black-ringed tails and spots that were similar to those of a jaguar.

I had stumbled upon a pair of ocelots (Leopardus pardalis)! Because ocelots are nocturnal, they are often very difficult for humans to find. They usually only leave their habitat on cloudy days or moonless nights. Ocelots also prefer to stay hidden in low, thick brush that you would have to crawl on your hands and knees to get through.

Ocelots hunt small lizards, rabbits, rodents, and birds. Since they eat mostly small animals, these wild cats go on at least three hunts a day, so they use a lot of energy.  One of my favorite facts about ocelots is that they usually live in pairs; the buddy system works in the animal world, too!

The ocelot is another animal that needs the attention of good conservationists like you and me. The soil that grows the thick brush that ocelots prefer is also the best soil for farming.  Because of this, ocelot habitats are continually being cleared in order to grow crops. Today only about 1 percent of South Texas can provide the optimum habitat for ocelots, and those areas are divided and spread out across privately owned land. This often forces ocelots to leave the safety of the brush and travel across dangerous areas, such as highways, in search of new shelter. Since 97 percent of Texas land is privately owned, it’s important for landowners to take part in the conservation of the ocelot. Leaving areas of the thick, thorny and scrubby brush that the ocelots favor is one of the best ways we can help the ocelot population grow.

I watched as the two ocelots timidly crept out of the brush and then scampered across the highway to a cluster of brush on the other side of the road. I was so nervous when I saw them make a break for it. It’s not safe for anyone, human or animal, to make mad dashes across dangerous roads!

I was relieved as I watched the two ocelots disappear into the brush, but it left me thinking about all the other ocelots that have to make risky trips across uncovered territory. What is being done to help them? Animal conservationists (like you and me) are asking for ocelot habitats to be connected by long, thin strips of brush much like an animal highway. This would provide ocelots with safe passage as they move from place to place. It’s an exciting and innovative thought – ocelots have their own highways so they don’t have to use ours!

One private landowner who has taken up the challenge to save the ocelot is Frank Yturria. This South Texas landowner signed an easement with The Nature Conservancy of Texas in hopes of helping with the recovery of ocelots. The 1300 acres Yturria has contributed to the cause is pristine ocelot habitat and, more importantly, breeding ground. This is hugely significant because there is only one other known ocelot breeding ground, which happens to be just 20 miles southeast of Yturria’s ranch at Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge. This easement has also created ocelot highways by connecting other easements Yturria already had in place on his ranch. The Nature Conservancy has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor ocelot populations as they benefit from the added land protection provided by the new easement. Thanks to private landowner cooperation, partnerships like these give us an excellent example of how we can take an active role in taking care of our planet – that’s what conservation is all about!

Fellow Texan Frank Yturria is doing his part to save the ocelot. Here’s what you can do to help the ocelots and other animals whose habitats are being altered:

  • If you’re in South Texas and lucky enough to have an ocelot habitat nearby, leave it undisturbed. 
  • Encourage family and friends to leave habitat “highways” on their land for the ocelot to travel. 
  • Be careful when driving on highways, especially on cloudy days and at night when ocelots might venture out to move around. 
  • Adopt an ocelot through the Fort Worth Zoo! Your donation goes toward the feeding and caring of the ocelots who call the Fort Worth Zoo home.
  • Don’t forget to visit the ocelot exhibit when you’re at the Zoo – find it in the Brush Country area of Texas Wild!

What other conservation ideas do you have?  Email me at Sam’s Inbox to tell me how you’re doing your part to be a conservationist.  I’m always so excited to hear your stories!  Happy exploring!




Brush: (noun) a thick growth of bushes, shrubs, etc.
(noun) the right to use property owned by another landowner
: (adjective) novel, original, groundbreaking
(verb) to watch
(adjective) active at night
(adjective) most favorable or advantageous, best
(adjective) pure, untouched
(noun) the regaining of something that has been lost or taken away
(noun) gnawing or nibbling mammals of the order Rodentia (including mice, squirrels, beavers, rats, etc.)
(verb) to run quickly
(adjective) shy, easily frightened
: (adverb) left alone

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    9 comments Add a comment

    1. patti long

      I teach fourth grade and love the strong vocabulary you include in your posts. I’m excited about sharing the blog with my class. They can add some new words to their “personal dictionaries”. Besides, how can anyone resist the face of that ocelot – he looks part kitty, part wild tiger. What a mix!

    2. Yasmin cazares

      Wow thats intresting

    3. jocelyn

      ocelots sound cool!!!!!!

    4. kobe


    5. Daniela

      He is sooooo CUTE!!!!!!

    6. Katelyn

      Wow I’m glad you got to find an ocelot! They are pretty cute

    7. keia

      that so cute!

    8. Leticia

      that is a cute ocelot.

    9. India

      wow, you’re lucky you saw one. I wish I saw one too.

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