Are there ocelots in the United States in 2020?
Yes, it is believed that there are ocelots in the United States in 2020 but their numbers are incredibly small. Two different sources tell me that there are about 50 to 60 ocelots in the United States tucked into two small populations near the Mexican border. You can see those areas on the map below. Occasionally male ocelots disperse from their natal range from Mexico into America and they might migrate into southern Arizona. Some of Ameirca’s ocelots are at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. The story of the ocelot in America is the story of their decimation by the ‘harvesting’ of their skins.
The map above comes from the IUCN Red List. This is an organisation which should know the status of all wild cat species in the world but they often don’t as theur data is out of date by many years. The list below is also from this organisation.
The big issue for someone like me is whether a population of fifty individuals can sustain itself. There must be a strong chance of inbreeding which can lead to infertile adults which further reduces the population size to the point where it is unviable. It may already have reached that point but I don’t see that assessment from most of the experts. Although, a study “Loss of Genetic Diversity among Ocelots in the United States during the 20th Century Linked to Human Induced Population Reductions” tells me that the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge recorded a loss in ocelot biodiversity for the first time.
When you read about the Florida panther, of which they used to be around a hundred, there was a discussion about inbreeding and infertility. Population size is very important in terms of the health of the individuals. Inbreeding causes inbreeding depression which essentially means that the cats have reduced lifespans because of immune problems and a lack of robustness in terms of health.
And the population size is consistently decreasing. This medium-sized wild cat species is under pressure and I would predict that the precarious population numbers in America will decline further to the point of extinction in the wild unless something dramatic happens.
There are numerous pressures against the existence of this species. To name a few: housing and urban areas expansion, commercial and industrial areas expansion, farming, wooden pulp plantations, mining and quarrying, roads and railroads. All these damage and split up their habitat. Then you have hunting and trapping and intrusion from recreational activities. All of which are to do with human activities and behaviour. It’s the usual story. I don’t want to paint an incredibly pessimistic picture but you have to be realistic.
The sources: Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas and Defenders website. Plus IUCN Red List for images.