Texas’ Ocelot Wild Cats More Widespread Than Scientists Thought

There might be more ocelots in Texas than first thought, scientists said.

An unfortunate ocelot was found to have been hit by a car in 2021 in Hidalgo County—just south of Linn, Texas—about 50 miles from Texas’ known ocelot population, mystifying conservationists.

A DNA test on the dead ocelot revealed it was related to wild ocelots native to the U.S.-Mexico borderlands region but had more unique genes than the rest of them, implying that the range of the animals might be wider than originally thought.

“The results suggest that this cat possibly occupies a region of South Texas not yet known to ocelot researchers,” Sharon Wilcox, expert in ocelot conservation and senior Texas representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “Hidalgo County may have more ocelots present in its more remote sections where appropriate habitat and access to prey exists.”

Stock image of an ocelot. These wild cats are rare in Texas, with one being found miles outside its usual range.


Ocelots are small wild cats, about twice the size of a domestic housecat, measuring as long as 3.5 feet and weighing up to 35 pounds. They were once found widely across Texas, but after years of hunting, trapping and poisoning, the ocelot population in Texas is now very small and federally endangered, with some estimates suggesting that fewer than 100 remain in the wild.

These ocelots are primarily found in two isolated populations in the southern part of the state, mainly on protected lands such as the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Texas ocelots are dependent on a thorn-scrub habitat, a dense, shrubby environment that provides them with the shelter and hunting grounds they need. However, this habitat has been largely fragmented due to agricultural development, urban expansion and infrastructure projects, which have significantly limited their range and movement.

“In South Texas, ocelots rely on the thornforest for denning and hunting. It is crucial the remaining brush stays in place,” Tom deMaar, a former Gladys Porter Zoo veterinarian and member of the Board of Directors for the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, said in the statement.

The finding of the ocelot so far away from where they are known to be located—and the fact that the area near where the dead ocelot was found is the same thorn-scrub ecosystem that the critters require to thrive—implies that there may be more ocelots living in Texas that conservationists don’t know about.

“It makes you wonder; how many more ocelots are hidden out there? This is the first time there’s been confirmed evidence of an ocelot outside its range,” deMaar said.

ocelot in woods
Stock image of an ocelot. These cats are endangered in the U.S. due to habitat loss and historic levels of hunting.


The primary threats to Texas ocelots include habitat loss and fragmentation, road mortality, and potential genetic inbreeding due to isolated populations. Vehicle strikes are a significant concern as ocelots often cross roads that intersect their already-limited habitat.

“While we have gained new insight into ocelots in Texas, this story also serves as a powerful reminder that motorists in ocelot-occupied areas should slow down and be aware when traveling on our roads, particularly from dusk to dawn” Wilcox said. “Together, we can help to ensure other ocelots do not meet this same unfortunate fate.”

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