Ocelot Research and Conservation

Ocelot Research and Conservation

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Texas is home to the last two remaining populations of ocelots in the United States. There are likely less than 100 of these magnificent cats in Texas, and the scientists at Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute (CKWRI) at Texas A&M – Kingsville, along with partners like the East Foundation, are dedicated to studying these rare animals with the hopes that these cats will continue to have a future in the United States.

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    • How many ocelots are in South Texas?
      A key missing puzzle piece is understanding how many ocelots remain in South Texas. Researchers at CKWRI are planning two different approaches to answer this question: one based on photos from camera traps, in which individual ocelots can be identified from their coat patterns, and one based on collection of genetic material, in which individuals can be identified through genetic sequencing. We will compare these two methods to determine which is best for producing the most robust and reliable estimates of ocelot density, as well as how the approaches compare in terms of field effort and cost.
    • How are ocelots using thornscrub habitat in South Texas?
      Ocelots are known to rely almost exclusively on thornscrub, a habitat type that is slowly disappearing from Texas ranchlands. Researchers at CKWRI are evaluating how ocelots are using thornscrub habitat at fine scales, and to what extent ocelots depend on thornscrub in their daily activity patterns of resting, foraging, and traveling. We are currently investigating the optimal size and configuration of thornscrub patches such that we can better plan thornscrub restoration efforts across Texas.
    • How are ocelots doing from a genetics perspective?
      Previous research from CKWRI has suggested that the two ocelot populations in Texas are becoming genetically isolated, both from each other and from the neighboring population in Tamaulipas, Mexico. Given the passage of another decade, we will be updating this genetics analysis to assess genetic diversity of ocelots in Texas, as well as provide insights into how individual ocelots are related to one another.
    • How often do ocelots reproduce, and what are kitten survival rates?
      It is impossible to understand population dynamics without understanding reproduction, a process that adds new individuals to the population every year. Researchers at CKWRI seek to employ the latest technology to assess reproduction in lactating females, locate den sites, and determine survival rate of kittens.   
    • How is disease transmitted among ocelots, bobcats, and domestic cats?
      We know that ocelots, bobcats, and domestic cats share habitat in South Texas. Researchers at CKWRI aim to study how viruses and blood-borne pathogens present in domestic cats, such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, are transmitted to bobcats and then ocelots. A key part of this project will be understanding to what extent ocelots share space with bobcats and domestic cats, which we will accomplish by monitoring movement of all three species. Blood and tissue samples from candidate individuals will be used to determine disease status and assess the pathways of disease transmission.