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US ocelots on the brink

Last stand in corner of Texas

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The US's population of ocelots - estimated at "100 or less" - came one step closer to extinction this week with the unexplained death of a breeding age male in southeast Texas's Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Reuters reports.

The refuge is home to just 30 to 40 breeding adults, and since the colony is cut off from other isolated ocelot populations, it has a limited genetic pool. Accordingly, the loss of one animal is a serious blow to the species. Jody Mays, a US Fish & Wildlife Service biologist, said: "You really hate to lose any of them when there are so few of them."

Human activity is the principal cause of the US ocelot's woes, with farming and residential development increasingly pushing the creature into smaller pockets. As their range is limited, these populations become increasingly vulnerable to "sudden die-offs from disease or a sharp drop in food supplies" - risks which in turn rise as the population contracts.

Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) once ranged from Louisiana and Arkansas, but look likely to disappear completely from the US. Subspecies are still found right across Latin America, from Mexico to Argentina. They were once considered a vulnerable endagered species, but the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in 2006 rated them as "Least Concern" on its Red List. ®

Bootnote

The Texas ocelot subspecies is Leopardus pardalis albescens. The Central American subspecies Leopardus pardalis aequatorialis has a fearsome reputation among Panama's indigenous populations. One Choco Indian in the country's southern Darien region once told this hack how he'd been attacked by an animal which killed his two hunting dogs and then set about his throat. He said he'd been lucky to escape with his life, and had the scars to prove it. Sadly, his survival on that occasion depended on dispatching the ocelot with a rifle.

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