The southwest United States is one of the few places wild ocelots live, but even still they don't appear in great numbers: in the nearly 270,000 glorious square miles of Texas, there are just 55 ocelots. Texas is the only state where wild ocelots roam freely in wildlife refuges, and now one of those rescues has counted another of these rare cats in its small population. Recently, biologists at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Rescue discovered a kitten they'd never seen before with the help of a remote camera, which contained photos of the never-before-seen ocelot dated as early as February 14th. The discovery brings the refuge's total ocelot population up to 12.
"It's a hugely, hugely important discovery for several reasons," Hilary Swarts, a wildlife biologist at the refuge, told the Brownsville Herald. "When you are adding one individual to a population of 11, you are talking about an almost 10 percent increase in your population."
Swarts said that the kitten, whose sex has yet to be confirmed, could help provide a much-needed boost to the local population if she reproduces in the future, but that's unlikely to happen anytime soon. "Males can go impregnate multiple females in a relatively short time, but females have to gestate and lactate," she said. "Basically a female, from the second she gets pregnant ... [will take] about two years before she's ready to have another offspring."
Swarts says there might be other outside pressure limiting the kitten's ability to reproduce -- well, not just her ability, but that of all the ocelots in the refuge. "It has been dry for a very, very long time ... there's been such a concern whether the ocelots were going to reproduce at all," Swarts said. But, given that this new kitten has appeared in such dry conditions, it's a good sign that should outweigh the bad.