Ocelots are medium-sized small cats found across most of the American tropics. These agile hunters are also found high on the slopes of the Andes and in the dry shrublands of northern Mexico.
These small cats are well-adapted to tree-climbing, and may spend much of their time off the ground. They can be found in forested areas across their range.
The characteristic dark markings that pattern the ocelot’s coat are so variable that no two animals are quite alike.
Solitary and nocturnal by nature, ocelots are not easy to observe. In the past they were heavily hunted for their beautiful fur, but thanks to protective measures, their numbers have increased in some parts of their range. It is now illegal in many countries to trade ocelot skins, but such laws are hard to enforce, when the demand continues, and the black market price is high. Ocelots seek cover during the day, preferring environments that offer seclusion. In daylight hours an individual will sleep in vegetation on the ground, or may dose while lying on a branch up a tree. It is an extremely secretive animal and rarely shows itself in open country. Males and females live in pairs in a territory, but do not hunt together.
Ocelots are largely solitary animals, although males will maintain social links with a number of females in their local areas. They communicate with quiet mews, which become loud yowls during courtship. At the northern and southern extremes of their areas, they tend to mate during the late summer and fall. Ocelots mate at night, and courting males make loud, screeching calls, similar to those of domestic cats. A litter of 2 young, sometimes 4, is born after a gestation of about 70 days, in a safe den in a hollow tree or in thick vegetation.
Distribution: Occurs over a wide area from the southern USA across Central America down to northern parts of Argentina in South America, occurring east of the Andes.
Habitat: Humid forest, thick bush, marshy areas.
Weight: 11.5 – 16 kg (25 – 35 lb).
Length: 80 – 145 cm (32 – 57 in), including tail.
Maturity: 2 years.
Gestation Period: 79 – 85 days.
Breeding: Litters of 2 – 4 born once a year.
Food: Rodents and other creatures, even turtles and fish; large quarry includes peccaries and small deer.
Lifespan: Probably 5 – 7 years in the wild, but has lived over 20 years in captivity.
Status: Lower risk.
Spotted markings tend to be confined to the legs. The paws themselves are strong, helping these wild cats to climb easily.
The background colour on the underparts of the body is usually paler than the flanks.
The broader rosette-type marking tend to be concentrated on the ocelot’s trunk.
Ocelots will hunt their prey in the trees, on the ground and even in water. Rodents are their preferred quarry.