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Rare ocelot kitten seen as hopeful sign

Now 1 of 5 female ocelots at South Texas refuge

Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

First seen March 5 on critter cams at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, an ocelot kitten is being celebrated as a hopeful sign for the critically endangered species.

Even more so after the same kitten was trapped April 10 in one of 50 cages set out by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at the refuge.

"Having another female in the population really bumps up the potential for the population to grow," said Dr. Hilary Swarts, a wildlife biologist at the refuge.

She said the healthy new kitten that is about a year old is now one of five females at the refuge.

Swarts said it's believed only 12 ocelots are on the 100,000 acre refuge in the Rio Grande Valley.

She said the estimated 50 ocelots in South Texas are the only breeding population in U.S.

Given their low numbers, Swarts said the new kitten represents almost a 10 percent increase in the rare species.

She said after being examined, the ocelot was fitted with a radio collar to track its movements, then released.

Swarts said so far, the newest ocelot remains in a remote area of the refuge where she was photographed and trapped.

She said the new ocelot is a good indication, despite the drought and colder than usual winter.

"They can have babies. They're doing OK," Swarts said.

However, she said 40 percent of ocelot mortalities are due to are due to being struck by vehicles.

In addition to ocelot crossings warning drivers to slow down, Swarts said eight special underpasses will be part of a road project on FM 106 in the Valley.

She said they will allow ocelots and other wildlife to safely cross beneath traffic.

Swarts said it would be a shame to see ocelots disappear.

She said, "They're a longstanding part of our Texas wildlife heritage."

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