This wild cat is found throughout the forests of South America, as well as Central America and parts of Mexico, and a small population inhabits part of Texas, in the United States. The name “ocelot” is derived from the Nahuatl language once spoken by the Aztecs and still spoken by more than a million people in Central America. Across the Americas, the ocelot is known by a number of local names, such as cunaguaro, manigordo, mathuntori, ocelote, onsa, pumillo and tigri-kati. In Peru, it is often referred to as the “tigrillo” (“little tiger”, in Spanish).
Traditionally hunted for its beautiful spotted fur, the ocelot was once classified as vulnerable, but since 1997 its status on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List has remained “Least Concern”, thanks to conservation areas like Tambopata National Reserve and our own Tambopata Ecolodge Private Conservation Area.
Ocelots are much smaller than the jaguars and pumas also found in the forests of Central and South America, but larger than margays, which they closely resemble. Their head and body length ranges from 70 centimeters to 90 centimeters, while their tail is around 30 to 40 centimeters long. An adult ocelot will usually weigh around 11 kilograms.
Ocelots have large ears and their hearing is excellent, while their large eyes adapt readily to changes in light, giving the animal exceptional nighttime vision. Its ability to thrive in a range of habitats, from lowland and highland forests to semi-arid zones, makes it one of the food chain’s most efficient carnivores. Its size means it tends to feed on smaller prey than its larger feline cousins. While ocelots are essentially ground-based, they are also able to climb trees, and in addition to small deer, reptiles and opossums, they have been known to hunt monkeys, birds and bats. They will also eat fish and scavenge for turtle eggs.
Able to mate at any time of year, female ocelots tend to give birth to between one and three kittens after a gestational period of around eighty days. To keep them safe, mothers have been known to move their young frequently between up to three pre-established dens.
Able to live in captivity for up to twenty years, in addition to being hunted for its fur the ocelot has also traditionally been a victim of the international pet trade. Famed for his eccentric lifestyle as well as his art, the Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí was photographed often with his pet ocelot.