Biologists were able to do a quick health check on this three-week old male kitten found at a den in the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Photograph by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. The news of these adorable kittens is welcome in South Texas, where biologists have identified about 50 of the wildcats by their coat patterns. A statewide estimate currently falls anywhere between 80 to 100 total ocelots.
While the small cats roam throughout South and Central America, they are considered endangered in Texas. In the United States, ocelots used to range as far east as Arkansas and Louisiana, but today only a small subpopulation lives in the wild in the Lone Star State, and about 95 percent of their original habitat has been cleared, Swarts says.
“That clearing means that some of those areas are fragmented from each other, so to get from one habitat to another, they have to pass through human nature,” Swarts says. “That leads to the other big threat: getting hit by cars.”
Genetic isolation, which leads to reduced genetic diversity, is also problematic for ocelots and brings its own set of issues, like reduced disease resistance.
Ultimately, though, Swarts is optimistic: “What was so great with seeing the burst of kittens this year—though from a statistical perspective, it is impossible to say whether there was a bumper crop or not—[is that] they’re doing their job, which is to produce more ocelots, and we have been making some good strides as far as reducing threats.”