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Monday
Feb222016

Ode To The Ocelot

The world’s big cats are arguably its most iconic animals. The lion, leopard, cheetah and jaguar fill up our wildlife documentaries and photographs as well as many a local myth and legend. But there are some smaller wild cats that deserve some love too. The Americas are full of them, so let’s focus on one in particular: The Ocelot.

Having fur that resembles that of a jaguar or leopard and being far easier to handle, meant that the ocelot was hunted viciously during the 20th century for its pelt. The numbers are recovering however as in 1996 they were listed as least concern on the ICUN red list.

flickr | ValerieFound all over central and southern America, the Ocelot is often confused with its smaller relatives the Margay and the Oncilla due to very slight differences in appearance. Reports have even placed Ocelot as far north as Texas, and as far south as Uruguay. For now though, let’s focus on Costa Rica.

Frontier’s Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates and Turtles conservation project recently ran into the ocelot on camp. After days of hide and seek and near misses, a good sighting was finally achieved. The Ocelot is just one of a few different wildcats native to Costa Rica, the most prominent being the jaguar which the camp hopes to get a glimpse of at some point as well.

flickr | Giorgio QuattroneDespite being one of a number of big cat and wild cat species in the area, these animals are difficult to find, owing to the vast habitat they roam and their illusive and shy characteristics. Just like the ocelot, populations of jaguar, puma and jaguarondi have been in flux for many years due to hunting for pelts and furs. Conservation efforts in the area are working tirelessly to stabilise these animal’s populations as, in turn, they help to stabilise their eco-system as a whole, as many are top predators in their own niche.

The Ocelot primarily lives in dry deciduous forest which, adding that to their secretive and illusive nature means they are difficult to spot thanks to their personality and the inaccessibility of much of their homeland. Usually preying on small rodents, the Ocelot can also hunt some small lizards and iguanas and even small peccaries, which are a South American wild pig. It’s an impressive hunter for an animal that rarely reaches bigger than about three feet in length.

flickr | DebsAs with many other exotic animals, the Ocelot has been a favourite exotic pet for many years despite regulations prohibiting it. Somewhat more feasible of a wild cat pet than a tiger or lion, a famous example comes from Spanish painter Salvador Dali who had a pet ocelot by the name of Babou.

Thanks to conservation efforts, including those by Frontier, the Ocelot’s numbers are steadily growing after being devastated by the fur industry. Hands on conservation as well as teaching and the raising of awareness about these animals, and similar others, has helped the Ocelot return from being critically endangered.

Hopefully, continued efforts will strengthen the Ocelot’s population further so that the illusive cat can become more visible.

For more information about Frontier’s Costa Rica Big Cats project, click here

by Guy Bezant - Online Journalism Intern

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