Caturday Special: The Ocelot, Leopardus pardalis

KITTEN TAX! Already! Yes! Because ocelots are the best and this young kitto knows it! Look at those big, round ears, the huge eyes, big nose and long, drooping whiskers. You can tell this is a night-cat by those features alone. What an unbelievable cute cat! (Credit: Valerie CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Have you got an ocelot?

I’ve got lots of ocelots.

I want lots of ocelots.

I’ve got lots of ocelots.

Gimme all the ocelots, ‘coz ocelots is what I want, and I like ocelots a lot!

If you don’t know what on earth I am on about I am reciting the lyrics to a short song from early internet meme machine ‘rathergood.com’ featuring Iggy Pop’s Ocelot Shop.

This was memes, back in the early 2000s, in the UK, along with B3ta and AlbinoBlackSheep. Yes, the internet has come a long way. (Credit: Rathergood.com)

Does it make any sense? No.

Should you watch it? Yes.

Will you ever be able to see an ocelot, ever, in your life, without singing to yourself “Have you got an oceloooot?” Fuck no! This one stays with you.

Honestly it’s a solid meme for a worthwhile meme cat. There is something about the ocelot where it gets the balance between wild and cute just perfect that we recognise it for a potentially dangerous medium size cat but want to hug it and love it regardless.

See Babou the ocelot owned by millionaire-heiress/Cowboy Country singer/BDSM fiend Cheryl Tunt in the animated TV series ‘Archer’, who has his own Twitter account.

Moreover this is a reference to millionaire-artist/Cowboy absurdist Salvador Dali and his pet ocelot, Babou.

One of these is a mad, poor unfortunate creature clearly driven to a point of near insanity by having been removed from its native, comfortable habitat and placed among the inanity and insanity of human life and the other is an ocelot named Babou. (Credit:
Roger Higgins, World Telegram staff photographer, Public Domain)
The incredible design of Revolver Ocelot (by Japanese artist Yoji Shinkawa) involves a lot of nods to Spaghetti Western motifs, and the character is allegedly designed around veteran Western actor Lee Van Cleef. Sporting a bandolier full of ammo for his Colt Single-Action Army revolver – he is an iconic (and important) character in Metal Gearl Solid. (Credit: © Konami, concept and design by Yoji Shinkawa and Hideo Kojima – Used without permission)

And any fan of Hideo Kojima’s mad, pop-culture reference crammed, anti-war, yet somehow understanding the complex socio-economic inevitabilities of war romps, the Metal Gear franchise, will know Revolver Ocelot.

We don’t know much of the origin of his codename ‘Ocelot’ but he was likely given it whilst working for the Russian GRU (who took him in and raised him as an ‘orphan’) to reflect his American origins (the Ocelot being a cat native to the Americas and his mother; The Joy (later The Boss) having been American and a founding member of the elite COBRA special forces unit).

Honestly there should be a whole series of We Lack Discipline article doing a full analysis of the Metal Gear Solid franchise because not only is it one heck of a socio-political anti-war set-piece but it’s bat-shit insane and so deeply, disturbingly image rich that there’s so much room for artistic interpretation!

But it’s more than just a modern phenomenon. The importance of Ocelots dates back to their native Central and South America in the Aztec and Incan civilisations that depict ocelots as an integral part of their mythology and artistic symbology.  

Although it should be noted the old Nahuatl word, the language group spoken by many Mesoamerican groups, for ‘jaguar’ was ‘ocelotl’ so we should be careful with many interpretations, in language, that refer to ‘ocelotl’ as they may mean jaguar.

So, before we even get to the cat itself we have an interesting, culturally significant species on our hands!

So what is an ocelot?

I pick this spot to place this shot of ocelot! Another beautiful shot by the same photographer as the title shot. Their faces are so telling, so incredible to look at. Their amber eyes, which often reflect orange when spotted in lamps in the night, are piercing, that muzzle is something else with that large nose. Oh they’re adorable. (Credit: Valerie CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It’s a slender, medium-sized cat, with a blotched/spotty coat. They can be up to 50cm at the shoulder, head and body length between 50-100cm, tail is usually quite short at 30-45cm. Weight is usually somewhere around 8-15kg, females averaging slightly smaller, but not by much.

STARING OCELOT! (Credit: Camera-man via Pixabay)

It is easily confused with the other small, slender cats in its genus, the margay and the oncilla – with the ocelot’s bulk being the main clue between them. They are significantly heavier. They have a small head, with a little, slightly pointed muzzle and small, rounded ears on the top of the head. They also have these big, soulful eyes that beg for you to pet them, but don’t! Ocelots are wild animals and a challenge to keep.

Whilst we associate the ocelot with a spotted coat the bulk of it is actually marked by blotchy rosettes, with pale lines in between. It tends to be spottier on the face, legs and belly. This gives it a special, marble-like pattern that make the ocelot particular prone to hunting for its pelts.

Of course its main threat (isn’t it always?) is habitat loss and fragmentation due to human exploitation. Increasing areas of ocelot habitat have been exploited to split to make way for modern roads, farms or other infrastructure. In areas of Argentina, for example, more ocelot deaths are being caused by traffic collisions. The logging trade is taking away huge areas of ocelot habitat and not replacing it fast enough.

This ocelot is a perfect example of how varied the coat colour and pattern, the pelage, can be. There is significant difference between the two subspecies – with the more northern subspecies being a greyer coat and often more spotted. This one from Brazil, however, has almost stripe-length blotches. They are incredibly beautiful animals and unsurprisingly were hunted for these gorgeous pelts. (Credit: João Carlos Medau CC-BY-2.0)

It’s got a hell of range to experience these problems in, too. In case you can’t tell by the pictures and description this is a forest cat, but it’s fairly well adapted for any kind of forest. The short tail should tell you whilst it can hunt in the trees it is probably not exclusively an arboreal hunter, so basically anywhere there’s dense vegetation an ocelot will fit. From Texas in the Southwest United States all the way down to the elevated forests of Northern Argentina and into the Amazon basin in Brazil these cats basically take in every country along the way as part of their territory.

A bottle, believed to be based on an ocelot, from the Moche civilisation of Peru, who lived between the 1st and 8th centuries CE. (Credit: Rama, MEG — Musée d’ethnographie de Genève CC-BY-3.0-Fr)

One of the reasons is they are very disperse. Female ranges tend to be a little smaller, estimated up to 6 square miles, whilst males can have territories wanting up to 20 square miles. Female ranges do not tend to overlap, male ranges definitely overlap with female ranges. It’s how we get kittens. But that doesn’t mean ocelots aren’t fiercely territorial, and fights can occur, sometimes resulting in death. However, ocelots have also been known, even during non-mating periods, to spend time together. It is unsure whether these are related individuals, but juveniles have been noted returning to their parents.

Given their wide range and, as mentioned, the wide range of habitats they can live in, it should come as no surprise that ocelots are relatively opportunistic hunters and seem to have different preferences depending on where they are. They only need around a kilo of meat per day to sustain themselves and so small prey of about 1kg are perfect. In the US/Central America this can include rabbits and hares, large rodents, armadillos, birds etc. In Mexican forests they seem to have a liking for iguana meat. In part of Brazil they prefer a bit of monkey. They really are a delightfully varied little cat, showing themselves to be highly adaptive.

KITTEN TAX! Another ocelot kitten. I have no words, just a series of squeaks and awws. (Credit: Mark Dumont CC-BY-NC-2.0)

They are mainly a crepuscular and nocturnal (twilight and night) species, active and hunting during those times and choosing to spend the day resting in trees or in dens.

Being a tropical/sub-tropical species there’s no real ‘season’ for breeding in ocelots and the peak time for it changes across their habitats. Usually it seems to come around Autumn/Winter time. They only gestate for two to three months and have small litters of 1-3 kittens, which can stay with their mother for up to two years! This is a relatively long time for parental investment in a cat!

There are two recognised sub-species of ocelot – that one could nominally call the ‘Northern’, Leopardus pardalis pardalis, and ‘Southern’, Leopardus pardalis mitis, ocelot, I suppose, with their territories basically divided by the Andes. The ‘Northern’ inhabits the space North of the Andes Mountains from Texas and Arizona down to Costa Rica, Panama. The ‘Southern’ Ocelot is more prevalent in South America in the cats’ range in Brazil, Guyana, Suriname – all the way down to the southernmost reach of their range in Northern Argentina.

There is no data on where this was taken or which subspecies it is but it is a beauty. You can see just how different the pattern on the coat can be, particularly compared to other cats that, whilst each specific cat’s pattern is unique they are uniform in their appearance. With ocelots you could get one big side blotch, you could get jaguar-like rosettes, you could mix the two. It’s amazing. (Credit: Ana_Cotta CC-BY-2.0)

Whilst being ‘of least concern’ to the IUCN, certain sub-populations are hugely at risk. The population in Texas, for example, likely only numbers around 50 adult individuals and is well into the inbreeding threshold putting increasing pressure on them.

CITES – The international law banning trade in certain wild animal parts certainly helped. Whilst illegal poaching for their skins and sometimes meat does take place it is a far cry from when they were being killed in high numbers to make fashionable furs. As a result the global population sits around 40,000 individuals, the bulk of which are in stable populations in the Amazon basin.

It is showing itself to be adaptable to human exploited sites such as oil palm farms and cattle ranches, with little danger to either palm trees or cows this could provide an excellent opportunity for peaceful, and beneficial co-existence as the ocelots could kill any bird or rodent pests that might cause problems for the agricultural communities.

Caught in a camera trap in the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. Almost all of the US population of ocelots now live on this refuge, accounting for around 50 of the global population of 40,000. Hopefully some breeding programs can get those numbers up because it’s too beautiful a cat to have go extinct in even one of its territories. (Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, Public Domain)

For want of a better term, ocelots’ got swag!

There’s a certain something and you can’t quite put your finger on it but ocelots have it. They are the perfect blend of wild and cute, they wear a coat you’d expect a flamboyant boxer to turn up at a press-conference wearing, soul-piercing eyes and a lithe body that looks like they could do anything with it. They don’t look real, they look like a kid designed a cat that looked like a teddy bear and some genius CGI artist just stuck it in our world. They’re special!

And for once I don’t have to cry foul, fall to my knees like Charlton Heston at the end of ‘Planet of the Apes’ and scream “God damn you all to hell!” It’s doing alright! This shy, elusive jungle cat is used to running and hiding from the most effective predators in the light-dappled darkness of the densest forests on the planet – dodging, ducking, dipping, diving and dodging between the trees and the shadows avoiding jaguars and caimans. Further north they have to avoid coyotes, cougars, bobcats and eagles.

Relax my little ocelot friend, the pressures on you are still there but not as much as they were 40-50 years ago. We’ll do our best to look after you, you adorable schleepy kitto. (Credit: gabi_mai_fuwa via Pixabay)

They’re great at doing what they do and staying the hell out of our way – and I think that stand-offishness is a little bit attractive in them.

Yeah, I like ocelots a lot.

You can CAT-ch up with the rest of our Caturday Specials here

Caturday Special: The Origin StoryProailurus and Pseudaelurus – The progenitor species of all modern cats examined.
Caturday Special: The Snow Leopard – The ‘Ghost of the Mountains’ gets an examination, a beautiful cat with some remarkable characteristics.
Caturday Special: The Scottish Wildcat – Once an emblem of so many Scottish clans, now this poor, cute, and feisty wildcat is struggling to survive due to historic persecution and current ongoing interbreeding with domestic cats.
Caturday Special: The Serval – Find out about this elegant and beautiful medium-sized African wildcat and how it has become part of our domesticated cat lineage!
Caturday Special: The Kodkod – The smallest cat in the Americas and endemic to only a small part of Chile and Argentina, find out about this amazing little boopster.
Caturday Special: The Feliformia and the Spotted Hyena – Did you know that hyenas are actually more closely related to cats than to dogs? They are members of sub-order of carnivores called ‘Feliformiae‘ or the cat-like carnivores. Learn more about them, the hyena and the hyena’s remarkable genitals here.
Caturday Special: The Cougar – The second biggest cat in the Americas is actually more closely related to your domestic moggy than the lion! Learn more!
Caturday Special: The Eurasian Lynx – One of my continent’s most handsome predators and one that certain groups are looking to get reintroduced to the UK after a 1,000 year absence in the hope it will control rabbit and roe deer numbers. I’m all for it!
Caturday Special: Hybrids – Looking at the phenomenon of hybrid species, with focus on cats like the liger, the pumapard and the Kellas cat, as well as some talk about domestic hybrids like chausie, bengals and caracats.
Caturday Special: The Fishing Cat – It’s a cat that loves to fish. An adorable little kitto from Asia.
Caturday Special: The Marbled Cat – A beautiful Asian cat of the Bay-Cat lineage that completes a write up of a cat species from every extant cat clade and that discusses the smaller, little known cats and why they are worth study.
Caturday Special: The Eurasian Cave Lion – A prehistoric beauty, around 10-15% bigger than the modern, African lion and as fearsome as it was admirable. Lions and humans emerged from Africa together and have a strong, cultural bond as a result. Like competing brothers.
Caturday Special: Homotherium – Less well-known than their Smilodon cousins, these pre-historic, sabre-toothed beasties have some incredible evidence for intelligence, social behaviour and the evolution of butchery!
Caturday Special: The Rusty-Spotted Cat – Possibly the smallest cat in the world (it’s close between it and the black-footed cat) this tiny, elusive feline of India and Sri Lanka is surely one of the cutest little hunters on Earth.
Caturday Special: The Leopard – One of the most well-adapted, disperse and diverse of habitat cats on our planet and one whose various populations are sadly threatened by human activity. Of huge cultural significance to humans going back at least as far as Ancient Greece, the leopard is amazing.
Caturday Special: The Sand Cat – It started as a cute distraction from the world’s ills but became a lesson, from an amazingly well-adapted, resourceful desert cat, on how to better use resources.

Or read our Top Ten Cats List

Top Ten Cats: Introduction – The basics of cat biology, evolution and natural history.
Top Ten Cats #10 – The Pallas’ cat – a small, very fluffy pika-hunter from Asia.
Top Ten Cats #9 – Jaguarundi – A unique and little known Puma relative.
Top Ten Cats #8 – Clouded Leopard – A stealthy and stunning Asian cat.
Top Ten Cats #7 – Jaguar – Beauty in spades, loves swimming, cracks skulls with teeth…
Top Ten Cats #6 – Lion – Emblematic, beautiful and social, an amazing cat.
Top Ten Cats #5 – Black-footed cat – one of the smallest, yet most deadly wild cats.
Top Ten Cats #4 – Smilodon – Going prehistoric with the sabre-toothed cats.
Top Ten Cats #3 – Tiger – One of the most gorgeous animals to have ever existed.
Top Ten Cats #2 – Cheetah – The placid lovechild of a sportscar and a murderer.
Top Ten Cats #1 – Domestic cats – Saviour of our foodstores and loving companions.

Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

Like a dark-chocolate fountain at a weight loss party, Karl Anthony Mercer is an under-utilised river of bittersweetness. When not busy researching or writing about any and all non-fiction topics for 'We Lack Discipline' Karl can often be found walking, staring at wildlife or writing poetry.

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