An ocelot is a small cat from the New World. It ranges from the very southern region of Texas all the way to northern Argentina in South America. In the United States, the ocelot used to be found throughout Texas and east to Arkansas and Louisiana, but due to hunting and habitat loss, it is now very rare in this country. In fact, researchers believe that there may be as few as 100 ocelots living in the United States today.
Because the ocelot is such a gorgeous animal, many people have hunted it for its skin. The skin is usually made into a fur coat, and it can take as many as 25 ocelots to make one coat. People used to pay more for an ocelot coat than they did for a car! Luckily for the ocelot, it has been illegal to bring ocelots or their skins into the United States and other countries for over 30 years. Since very few people buy the skins anymore, ocelots are not hunted as much as they used to be. However, in many areas they are losing their homes when people clear the land of the brush that ocelots need to survive.
Back in the 70s, some people were keeping the Ocelot as a pet, but private ownership of this wildcat has since become illegal. Ocelot is sometimes spelled as Ozelot. This should not be confused with the domestic breed cat called Ocicat, which was bred to resemble the Ocelot.
Learn more about the wild Ocelot on our radio show about the Cool Cats from San Diego Zoo.