In 2012, the USFWS entered into a binational partnership with the Civil Society for the Conservancy and Development of Natural Areas (CDEN), Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Gladys Porter Zoo, and (in 2013) the San Antonio Zoo. This partnership was formed to locate a large population of ocelots in northern Tamaulipas, Mexico, to assess if it might be able to serve as a potential source for translocation to smaller, at-risk populations such as the ones located in south Texas.
Ocelots are endangered in the Texas mostly due to a loss of their habitat, most of which occurred from the 1930’s to the 1960’s. Collisions with vehicles also pose a threat. While both of these issues are being countered with efforts in Texas, the looming threat of a significant loss of their genetic diversity, that occurred over a long period of time, needs to be addressed. Studies suggested that the most appropriate source for re-establishing the historic genetic diversity of ocelots in Texas would be from the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, and translocation of wild ocelots has been suggested as an option to achieve this goal.
As with any reintroduction project, there are several items that must be considered carefully. Among those considerations are the appropriateness of the genetics of the individuals to be introduced, an assessment of disease presence and risk from both recipient and source populations, and arguably most importantly, maintaining the integrity of the source population.
A relatively dense population of ocelots was discovered about 3 hours south of the Texas/Mexico border, in the low sierras along the coast of Tamauliaps. The great diversity of species in the area is a sign of the quality of the habitat – including jaguar, puma, jaguarundi, bobcat, white-tailed deer, javelinas, and turkey among others.
An adult female ocelot and her kitten photographed as part of the study in Tamaulipas.
CDEN, our partners in Tamaulipas, used game cameras to capture photographs of ocelots and identified individuals based on fur patterns. They counted 20 ocelots in a relatively small area, equating to a density of 1 ocelot/4.92km2. An estimate of the surrounding ocelot habitat and an extrapolation of the ocelot density provided a very conservative estimate of 117 ocelots in the metapopulation of the surrounding area.
A series of simulations of scenarios with and without translocation of ocelots from this source population were conducted as part of a Population Viability Analysis and the results were only a very low occurrence of negative effects to the source population. over 500 years.
The partnership has provided the data and a report to the government of Mexico on May 27, 2014, as requested in 2013, so that that they can assess the design, analysis and conclusions, and we will wait for their review. The partnership remains committed to maintaining an effective monitoring effort for this important ocelot population as well as the other species in this rich wildlife community.