Based on DNA results from a male ocelot found dead three years ago in Hidalgo County the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and Defenders of Wildlife today announced groundbreaking news that expands the known range of wild ocelots in South Texas.

In 2021, the ocelot, which was confirmed to have been killed by a vehicle, was found along Highway 281 about 50 miles from the known population in the state. Samples from the cat were subsequently sent for genetic testing to determine where it originated. DNA samples were finally tested in January 2024 and determined that the deceased ocelot is related to the wild ocelots native to the U.S.-Mexico borderlands region.  

“It makes you wonder; how many more ocelots are hidden out there? This is the first time there’s been confirmed evidence of an ocelot outside its range,” said Dr. Tom deMaar, a wildlife veterinarian in the Rio Grande Valley and member of the Board of Directors for the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

“The results suggest that this cat possibly occupies a region of South Texas not yet known to ocelot researchers,” said Dr. Sharon Wilcox, senior Texas representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “Hidalgo County may have more ocelots present in its more remote sections where appropriate habitat and access to prey exists.”

There are about 100 ocelots in South Texas documented between Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Cameron County and private lands in Willacy County. Texas is home to the only breeding population of ocelots in the U.S.

There is still much unknown about ocelot range and dispersal. Once found throughout the state, the confirmation of an ocelot 50 miles outside of previously known areas of occupation is an encouraging sign that these wild cats persist in South Texas. This is particularly encouraging news as efforts are ramping up to conserve ocelots and their habitat in the state.

“In South Texas, ocelots rely on the thornforest for denning and hunting. It is crucial the remaining brush stays in place,” said deMaar. Roadways also present a significant threat to these wild cats, as the leading known cause of death for ocelots in Texas is vehicular strikes.  

“While we have gained new insight into ocelots in Texas, this story also serves as a powerful reminder that motorists in ocelot-occupied areas should slow down and be aware when traveling on our roads, particularly from dusk to dawn” Wilcox said. “Together, we can help to ensure other ocelots do not meet this same unfortunate fate.”


In March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed a Safe Harbor Agreement for Ocelot Reintroduction with the East Foundation in South Texas. This landmark agreement is a crucial part of work underway to protect and expand the range of ocelots throughout South Texas including introduction of the wild cats to the San Antonio Viejo Ranch in Jim Hogg County, west of Hildalgo County. The East Foundation is now sharing information on the safe harbor agreement with the community for landowners to decide if they would like to participate.


The Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge supports ocelot conservation in South Texas. The Friends mission is to educate the public regarding the flora, fauna, and natural environment of the Refuge. 

For over 75 years, Defenders of Wildlife has remained dedicated to protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife for generations to come. To learn more, please visit https://defenders.org/newsroom or follow us on X @Defenders.


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