Ocelot-cougar hybrid is viable

Puma/ocelot hybrid

Adult female puma-ocelot hybrid. Image: in public domain and on the messybeast.com website owned by Sarah Hartwell.

There is a nice reference in Wikipedia to a purported ocelot-cougar hybrid. A mating of a puma and an ocelot can happen but in my travels over the internet you only see it happen in an artificial environment. You see it with captive cats managed by people who either deliberately facilitate mating between two different wild cat species or it may happen by accident which apparently is the case in this instance. As far as I am aware different species of wild cat never interbreed naturally.

The ocelot and cougar do inhabit the regions in central and south America so their paths might cross. But that does not mean they will mate – the opposite will usually occur. They will avoid each other or the ocelot will avoid the cougar as it is three times the size of the ocelot.

The best know wild cat to wild cat hybrid is the liger, a result of a lion and tiger mating.

The reference to the captive cougar and captive ocelot that mated comes from a publication called “Zoo Biology 12”. This is not Volume 12, Issue 1 of Zoo Biology available on Wiley Online Library.

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The mating is said to have taken place on several occasions in a private zoo in French Guiana over the period 1989 (possibly) – 1992. On each occasion the hybrid offspring died through one cause or another.

However, one female cub was said to have survived. And it seems that we have a photograph of this wildcat hybrid.

I cannot reproduce the photograph here because it is copyright protected. You can go to another website to see it: cougar-ocelot hybrid picture. However, I have a picture as you can see above of an ocelot/puma hybrid.

The cat looks genuine but may be an example of clever photoshop editing. One oddity is the tight color around the wildcat’s neck. That is very odd indeed and its addition may be a piece of photo editing to cover a poor join between body and head. However, I am not saying it is an edited photo. I don’t know.

The body has irregular rosettes, pale in color, washed out. The undersides are white which is typical of wildcat pelage.

The head looks more like the head of a cougar but may have hybrid qualities. It is difficult to scale this alleged wild cat hybrid. It does, though, look the kind of size that a cougar-ocelot hybrid would be.

Sarah Hartwell on messybeast.com

Fortunately, I am able to refer to Sarah Hartwell’s writings on the puma/ocelot hybrid. She also referred to G Dubost & J Royere (1993) in “Zoo Biology 12”. She tells us that the parents were both captive animals living in a private collection. The ocelot and Puma had shared a single enclosure in French Guyana since 1986. They were raised together.

There is, of course, a big size difference between these two wild cat species. The puma is about three times the size of an ocelot. This would have potentially created physical problems during mating. Note that the ocelot was the male cat and the puma the female cat. The puma must have been willing and cooperative.

The couple produced four litters of hybrid offspring between 1990 and 1992. Sadly, the female puma produced two sets of litters firstly in May 1990 and then in October 1990. On both occasions all the offspring died quite quickly because on the first occasion the mother failed to care for them on and on the second occasion, they were hand reared without an appropriate formula food being available.

Deceased puma-ocelot hybrid newborn cubs

Deceased puma-ocelot hybrid newborn cubs. Image: messybeast.com.

Further, three female cubs were born in 1991 and they also failed to survive. Another tragedy occurred in 1992 when a fourth litter was born but they were presumably eaten by the mother. She had shown poor maternal instincts earlier as can be seen.

The size and pattern of the offspring were, perhaps as expected, between those of their parents but more closely resembling the ocelot than the puma. The patterns were those of the ocelot. The tails were longer than that of an ocelot but not as long as that of the puma.

Because they had mated it demonstrated that body size was not an issue in terms of creating this sort of hybrid wild cat species. It also showed that the male cat which in this instance was much smaller than the female did not have to show dominance over the female in order to achieve mating.

When different cat species mate the offspring can be born stillborn because they have different gestation periods. In this instance they were born viable.

The puma has 38 chromosomes and the ocelot has 36 chromosomes presenting a potential barrier to a successful mating. Sarah Hartwell says that on this basis the offspring should look more like the puma but they actually looked more like the ocelot. She speculates that this is because puma cubs are spotted. Perhaps the ocelot genes which dictate the spotted coat combined with the genes for puma juvenile spotting.

She says that the cubs were smaller than normal ocelot cubs. She speculates that the size had been inhibited by a non-ocelot female’s genes.

Both the serval and domestic cat have 38 chromosomes. The serval/domestic cat mating (with difficulty) results in the famous F1 Savannah cat. Thirty-eight chromosomes are the norm.

Another wild cat has 36 chromosomes: Geoffroy’s cat. There is a rare wild cat to domestic cat hybrid called the Safari cat. Clearly mating 36 chromosomes to 38 is workable.

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Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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