Tuesday 22 October, 2019

CriTTers: T&T's only wild cat, the protected ocelot

This episode of ‘CriTTers’ looks at the Ocelot, Trinidad and Tobago’s only native wild cat species, which is also endangered and an Environmentally Sensitive Species (ESS).

Ricardo Meade, founder and director of the El Socorro Centre for Wildlife Conservation, explains how important it is to preserve this endangered species:


Here are seven things you may or may not know about ocelots (Leopardus pardalis), courtesy Big Cat Rescue:

1. Female and male ocelots like their space

Ocelots are solitary creatures – female and male ocelots actually only come together during mating season. They’re also very territorial, females will defend their territory, which can be as much as nine square miles, while males have a much larger territory of 32 square miles or more, which may overlap that of one or more females.


2. Ocelots can growl, snarl, hiss, purr

Ocelots are much like cats in that they communicate by making sounds such as growls, hissing, snarling and purring.

They also communicate by smell, leaving scent markings which can let the males know when the females are ready to mate.

Females in heat will also communicate via particular meows and yowls, just to make sure males get the picture.


3. Ocelots are nocturnal

Most times if a hunter comes across an ocelot, it’s because it’s night-time.

Ocelots are nocturnal and usually only hunt at night. Its diet consists of mainly nocturnal rodents such as mice, rats, quenks (peccaries), manicou, agoutis, and armadillos (tattoo). However they may attempt to hunt other animals such as anteaters or land tortoises.


4. Baby ocelots are blind

Ocelot kittens are born blind. Their body is covered with thick and dark fur. After one month, they will open their eyes and start developing additional colours on the fur.

However, once their sight develops, they’re known to have excellent night vision and an acute sense of hearing, which they use to catch their prey.

Young ocelots are ready to begin independent life at the age of one year.


5. Ocelots like water

Unlike house cats, ocelots like water and have no problem with taking a swim in local rivers and streams.


6. Ocelots are two times bigger than domestic cats

Although they’re cat-like, they’re definitely not suitable for domestication. They are two times bigger than domestic cats and weigh between 24 and 35 pounds during adulthood. Their tails are usually about half as long as their bodies.


7. Ocelots are endangered

Ocelots have small litters and long gestation periods which, in addition to poaching, means these creatures are endangered.

Female ocelots only have one litter every other year – their pregnancy lasts 85 days and they might only bear about two or three kittens, some of which may not survive.

In the second half of the 20th century, the ocelot was hunted almost to extinction for its fur.

In addition, ocelots are seen as competitors for game animals like manicou, agoutis, and tattoos, and they are often killed by poachers.

Their habitat is also under threat due to encroaching human development. 

By law, anyone who harms or captures an ocelot (without the relevant permissions), or anyone that harms its habitat, faces a fine of up to $100,000 and imprisonment for up to two years. 

For more information on how to support wildlife conservation and awareness, contact the El Socorro Centre for Wildlife Conservation on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wildlife.tt, or visit their website at www.wildliferescuett.org.

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