Brazilian Ocelot Births Help Conservation and Research

1_revy as kitten - bill swanson Cincinnati Zoo

Since 2010, three Brazilian Ocelot kittens (females “Milagre,” “Ayla,” and “Revy”) have been produced using artificial insemination (AI) techniques developed and performed by scientists from the Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW).

All three of these genetically valuable Ocelots have gone on to produce offspring of their own as a result of natural breeding. The most recent kitten was Neto who was born to Revy at the Santa Ana Zoo in December. Revy is the last of the three AI offspring to reproduce.

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4_neto -ethan fisherImage 1: Revy as a kitten by Bill Swanson ; Images 2,3,4,8: Revy and Neto by Ethan Fisher ; Images 5,6,7: Revy and Neto by Lauren Bergh ; Images 9,10,11,12: Milagre and kitten Matteo by Shannon Calvert ; Images 13 & 14: Ayla and kitten courtesy Dallas Zoo

“Without the AI option, Milagre, Ayla and Revy – and all of their subsequent offspring - would have never existed and the long-term genetic viability of our Brazilian Ocelot population would have been further diminished as a consequence,” said Dr. Bill Swanson, CREW’s Director of Animal Research and one of the world’s authorities on breeding endangered small cats. “Only 30 Brazilian Ocelots exist in North American Zoos, and seven, or nearly one quarter of the population, were born as a direct or indirect result of AI. That’s strong evidence that biotechnology can play a major role in species conservation.”

In October of 2014, on a recommendation from the Ocelot Species Survival Plan (SSP), which makes breeding pairings based on each individual’s genetic importance to the population as a whole, Revy moved from the Cincinnati Zoo, where she was born, to the Santa Ana Zoo to breed with “Diego,” a male from Oklahoma City Zoo. Because Diego’s parents were imported from Brazil to the United States in 2006 (a process that took six years to plan & execute), Diego’s genetic lineage was considered critically important to establishing a sustainable, genetically viable population.

“Revy and Diego are both extremely valuable to the Ocelot SSP due to the multiple founder lines they represent. The fact that they are compatible and have produced a kitten through natural breeding is a significant step toward conserving this species,” said Swanson. “Our objective is to use AI when necessary to produce offspring that then can breed on their own.”

The SSP’s goal is to increase the Brazilian ocelot population in North American zoos from 30 to 125 individuals. In some cases, however, the SSP’s carefully selected breeding pairs fail to reproduce naturally, sometimes due to behavioral incompatibilities (as with Revy’s parents) or, occasionally, physical impairments (as with Milagre’s and Ayla’s mother).

CREW scientists perform many of the AI procedures with wild cats in the U.S. They focus primarily on five priority small cat species: Ocelots, Pallas’ Cats, Black-footed Cats, Sand Cats, and Fishing Cats.

Dr. Swanson has also aided in AI procedures on tigers, lions, and leopards, in the past few years. “We have become the go-to source for AI in cats, as well as rhinos and polar bears, because of CREW’s expertise and past success. All cat SSPs have pairs that are not reproducing on their own for various reasons, so we try to help out with other cat species as much as possible,” said Swanson.

In cats, AI has been used to produce offspring in 12 species (tiger, snow leopard, cheetah, clouded leopard, leopard cat, ocelot, tigrina, fishing cat, Pallas’ cat, golden cat, leopard, puma), but half of those AI births consist of only a single pregnancy.   Historically, cheetahs have been most successful, with about 13 AI pregnancies produced since 1991 (but none since 2003) followed by the ocelot (with 5 pregnancies).

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Baby Ocelot Practices Prowling

1417497_10153709302402557_7155352498711835303_oVisitors at Germany's Berlin Zoo are getting their first glimpse of an Ocelot kitten born on October 26.  For the first eight weeks of his life, the baby has been behind the scenes with his mother Sarah.  An experienced mother of eight, Sarah has taken excellent care of her little one.

Photo Credit:  Berlin Zoo

Once the kitten was introduced to his outdoor habitat at the zoo, he began to explore and practice his prowling skills.  He is already an adept climber.

The kitten’s father, Prazak, has so far not been in contact with his baby.  Sarah and Prazak were separated before the birth to reduce potential conflicts between the pair.  The kitten will stay by his mother’s side for 10 months.  In the wild, this is when Ocelots are weaned and able to live on their own.

Ocelots inhabit areas of dense cover and hunt for prey at night.  Their adaptability to a variety of habitats – from jungles to  scrubland – has helped them thrive in many areas.

Widespread throughout Mexico, Central America, and South America, Ocelots were once listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but they were reclassified as Least Concern in the 1990s.  A small population of about 50 Ocelots exists in Texas and Arizona in the United States, but numbers have fallen by more than half in the last two decades.

Ocelot Kittens Spotted at Greenville Zoo


The Greenville Zoo, in South Carolina, celebrated the birth of two female Ocelot kittens on August 15th. The kittens are the first offspring for parents Evita and Oz, who are four years old. This is the first successful birth of this species for the Greenville Zoo, which is one of only two Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) institutions to breed Ocelots this year.

Evita, who came from Seattle, Washington, and Oz, who came from the North Carolina Zoo, were sent to the Greenville Zoo in 2013 as a breeding pair. They replaced the zoo’s non-breeding pair of Ocelots, who are now residents of the Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, Indiana.

According to general curator Keith Gilchrist, “The kittens’ birth is a valuable contribution to the conservation of this endangered species and to the Ocelot Species Survival Plan (SSP), which strives to ensure the sustainability of a healthy, genetically diverse and demographically varied population through breeding programs with AZA-accredited institutions like the Greenville Zoo.”



4_GreenvilleZoo_ocelot_kittensPhoto Credits: Greenville Zoo

The Greenville Zoo is currently holding an online auction to find names for the two kittens. The winning bidder of this auction will win the right to name BOTH of the Greenville Zoo's female Ocelot kittens. To place your bid, click the link to the website and follow instruction there: https://www.32auctions.com/GreenvilleOcelots

The starting bid is $250 and bid increases must be at least $10. The highest bidder at the close of the auction (November 20, 4 pm) will pay their winning bid amount and submit names for the kittens. Names must be approved by the Greenville Zoo. Other bidders will not be charged. Proceeds from this auction will be used to improve the Ocelots exhibit space.

In addition to your bids, you can also make a contribution to support the improvements of the Ocelots' exhibit and other South American exhibits at the Zoo.

The Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), also known as the Dwarf Leopard, ranges in size from 18 to 40 pounds and are found in every country south of the United States, except Chile, and occasionally range as far north as Texas. Their habitats include mangrove forests and coastal marshes, savanna grasslands and pastures and thorn scrub and tropical forests of all types.

Ocelots are similar in appearance to a domestic cat, with fur that resembles a clouded leopard or jaguar. Hundreds of thousands were once killed for their beautiful fur.

They are solitary and territorial nocturnal hunters, with eyesight six times greater than a human’s, and while they can climb trees and swim, they spend most of their time hunting on the ground.

Ocelots mate any time of year, but can produce litters only once every year. Gestation lasts 79 to 82 days, and usually result in the birth of one kitten. Litters of two are more are less common. Ocelot kittens begin to leave their den at about three months old, but they will remain with mother for up to two years.

The remnant U.S. population, found in South Texas, has declined from 80 to 120 individuals in 1995, to less than 50 in more recent years. In Trinidad, habitat fragmentation, as well as direct exploitation via illegal poaching are major threats. Because of its wide distribution, the Ocelot is currently classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List.

Meet Little Blue Eyes

A blue-eyed Ocelot kitten born a the Dallas Zoo won’t stay that way for long.  As the kitten matures, its eyes will naturally turn brown.  But that won’t make it any less adorable. 

DSC_1001a-Ocelot-kitten-logoBorn in the middle of the night on March 20, the kitten is learning its first lessons in hunting – but instead of capturing rodents, this little kitten uses its mother’s tail as its prey.  Its mother, Milagre, takes it all in stride. 

This is the second kitten for six-year-old Milagre.  Keepers continue to give Milagre and her baby privacy, and will conduct a well-baby checkup within the next few days. The baby’s weight and gender will be determined at that time, and he or she will be given a name.

“Milagre is once again embracing motherhood tremendously,” said Lisa Van Slett, carnivore assistant supervisor. “She manages a lot with her energetic newborn and makes it took effortless.”

Ocelots are found throughout much of South America, Central America, and Mexico, with Texas at the far northern edge of their range.  Fewer than 50 wild Ocelots are thought to survive in Texas, and they face severe threats from human encroachment in their native habitat. 

“Their territory used to cover all of Texas, and now it’s rare to find one in the wild,” said Van Slett.

Milagre will remain the sole caretaker of her kitten, since Ocelots are solitary by nature. The two are expected to venture out to the Ocelot habitat soon. That’s also when the kitten will meet its neighbors – dad Joaquin and Rufus, a bobcat – for the first time.

Joaquin and Milagre were paired by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Ocelot Species Survival Plan (SSP) in 2011. As a member of the SSP, the Dallas Zoo works with other zoological parks to ensure that the Ocelot gene pool remains healthy and genetically sound.


Abilene Zoo Loves Lucy

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The Abilene Zoo, in Texas, has a new baby Ocelot! Born Sept. 9th, to proud Ocelot parents ‘Hotrod’ and ‘Ellie’, little ‘Lucy’ is now old enough to be out on exhibit with her mother.

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Denise feeds Lucy

Ellie and baby LucyPhoto Credits: Abilene Zoo

The father, Hotrod, is 15 years old, and mother, Ellie, is fourteen. Lucy is their third litter together. Ocelot litters tend to range from one to three offspring.

The baby’s care has been shared by the zoo keepers and the Ocelot mother, a new experience for Ellie and the zoo. In the past, Ellie’s babies have been exclusively hand-raised, to help ensure their survival. Lucy is thriving from the extra care and attention.

“We’re lucky that the mother is allowing us to assist in rearing this baby,” said Abilene Zoo Mammal Keeper, Denise Ibarra. “It’s been successful with large cats, but this is rare in the zoo world for smaller cats to share hand-raising with parental care.”

The Abilene Zoo’s Ocelot breeding program is part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP), which strives to educate the public about these threatened animals while helping to repopulate the species.

Ocelots, also called dwarf leopards, are small wild cats that live in Central America, South America, Mexico, and far South Texas. They were once killed for their beautiful spotted fur, but the species has rebounded to between 800,000 and 1.5 million worldwide. They are, however, endangered in Texas. Only about an estimated 80 to 120 wild ocelots are found in two isolated populations in southeast Texas.

More great photos below the fold!

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UPPDATE! Santos the Ocelot Makes Friends with Blakely the Dog

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Do you remember Santos, Cincinnati Zoo's little Ocelot kitten? Since we last saw him in November, he has grown up from a tiny ball of fuzz into a healthy and playful young hunter. Here he is having a great time with his canine playmate, Blakely. 

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5 ocelotPhoto credit: Cassandre Crawford / Cincinnati Zoo

See more playtime photos after the fold.

Continue reading "UPPDATE! Santos the Ocelot Makes Friends with Blakely the Dog" »

Don't Wake Little Santos, The Ocelot Kitten!


The nursery in Cincinnati Zoo's Children's Zoo has a brand new addition! Santos, the baby Ocelot, was born November 2 at the Abilene Zoo in Texas. He'll become a part of the Cincinnati Zoo's Cheetah Encounter Show in the summer of 2014.

Ocelots are native to much of South America and Mexico. They are expert hunters, and are fiercely territorial. They are listed as a species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.





The Adventures Begin for Zoo Berlin's Ocelot Kitten

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Kittens always seem to be crowd-pleasers, but sometimes it takes a little while for them to venture outside. Zoo Berlin welcomed an Ocelot kitten on July 16, and the little one has been nursing, sleeping and growing strong out of the public's sight, until recently. Keepers have noticed some stirrings now that the kitten is about nine weeks old. Even though these cats are mostly nocturnal, visitors have an increasing chance of catching a glimpse of the beautifully-patterned mother and baby.  As the zoo's press release noted, the elusive nature of these creatures might not be the best draw for the zoo— but it certainly is typical cat! The nine-year-old mother does a good job keeping her baby out of sight. 

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5 ocelotPhoto credits: Zoo Berlin

Ocelots live in a variety of ecosystems in Central and South America, from tropical forests of all types to grasslands, coastal mangroves and marshes, and thorny scrublands. Their range once included the Gulf Coast of the United States, but now only a very small number remain, mostly in south Texas and Arizona. These cats were heavily hunted for their spotted fur, but are now protected throughout most of their range. 

Because Ocelots are solitary and territorial cats, the father is living in a separate enclosure to ensure that mother and baby have the space and privacy that they need. Ocelots have a  fairly low reproductive rate, which poses a challenge to conservation. A litter size of one kitten is typical, and offspring develop slowly.  A kitten's eyes remain closed for up to 18 days, and juveniles often stay with their mother for up to two years before leaving to establish their own territory.

Wide-eyed Ocelot Kitten Debuts at Dallas Zoo


A rare Ocelot kitten born on June 26 made her public debut this week at the Dallas Zoo!

With her mother Milagre by her side, Lindy gingerly explored her outdoor habitat for the first time last week.  She scampered over rocks, chased bugs, and stared wide-eyed at the visitors who were watching her. 


Ocelot Kitten
Photo Credit:  Dallas Zoo


Lindy and Milagre have spent the last two months in seclusion in their den.  Milagre is still very protective of her baby and keeps Lindy close most of the time.  But as Lindy grows, expect her to become bolder and Milagre to become more relaxed.

Lindy is the third Ocelot kitten ever born at the Dallas Zoo and the first since 2001.  Only a few Ocelot kittens are born in U.S. zoos each year. Milagre, age 4, came to Dallas from Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, while the kitten’s father, Joaquin, age 5, came from the Oklahoma City Zoological Park. Both were brought to the Dallas Zoo in April 2011 on the recommendation of the Ocelot Species Survival Plan, with hopes that they would reproduce. Ocelot kittens typically weigh less than half a pound when born. At four weeks old, Lindy weighed two pounds.

Wild Ocelots occur naturally in Texas, but experts believe that only about 50 of these predators remain in the wilds of the state.  Ocelots are widespread in Central and South America, where they prefer areas of dense vegetation. 

"Miracle" Ocelot Kitten Born at Cameron Park Zoo


An Ocelot kitten born at the Cameron Park Zoo is being called a “miracle baby” because it was born to a mother who was beyond the known breeding age for Ocelots. 

The kitten, a male named Aztec, is the first infant born to Cameron Park Zoo Ocelots Maya and Gustavo. Maya is 14 years old, an age which is considered somewhat past the prime age for successfully producing offspring. Ocelots reach sexual maturity at two to two-and-a-half years of age and their life expectancy is seven to ten years in the wild and up to 20 years in captivity. 



Photo Credit:  Cameron Park Zoo

In November 2012, a team of veterinary specialists from the Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research for Endangered Wildlife (CREW) performed a reproductive assessment on Maya. Even though she was past her breeding prime, Maya was still cycling and the assessment showed that there could be a slight chance of a successful pregnancy.  The team, along with Cameron Park Zoo veterinarian Terry Hurst, collected semen from Gustavo and performed an artificial insemination procedure on Maya. Unfortunately the procedure was not successful, and the assumption was that because of her age and the condition of her ovaries, Maya would not be able to become pregnant. 

On May 31, 2013 Maya was not feeling well and was left in her night house.  Later that morning, zoo staff members were surprised and excited to find a baby Ocelot had just been born!  Maya was given a nest box and hay for bedding her infant and then left alone with her baby to allow time to bond.  Apparently, Gustavo and Maya decided to have their baby “the old fashioned way” and Maya has proven to be an attentive mother.  Aztec has not made his public debut in the exhibit, but zoo officlas hope to announce that very soon. 

Ocelots are native to much of South America and Mexico.  They are expert hunters, and are fiercely territorial.  They are listed as a species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.