Southern Texas through Central America to northern Argentina in South America


Rain forests, dry scrubland, and chaparral

Seeing spots

An ocelot is a small cat from the New World. It ranges from the very southern region of Texas all the way to northern Argentina in South America. The ocelot has one of the most beautiful coats of any animal in the world. Its fur is golden over most of its body, with white or cream on the belly; splashed over the background color are all sorts of patterns!

Mostly, the ocelot has black or dark brown spots arranged in a doughnut shape with dark tan in the middle. Sometimes these spots link together and form chains or stripes running along the cat’s sides and back. The ocelot has two stripes on its cheeks and a stripe running from the top of the eye over the head. The eyes also have white fur around them. The tail often has rings around the end and bands closer to the body. Wherever these patterns are missing, the ocelot usually has many small dots and blotches taking up the rest of the space.

Hide and go seek

It is very hard to study wild ocelots, as they are active primarily at night, especially at dawn and dusk, and are very secretive. They may be more active in daytime on rainy or cloudy days. Ocelots prefer to live in areas with thick vegetation, such as dense chaparral or tropical rain forests. During the day, they sleep hidden among bushes, on a tree branch, or inside a hollow tree. Without lots of places to hide, ocelots cannot survive. If trees and bushes are cut down in an area where ocelots live, the cats leave.

The ocelot is said to be a picky eater—even more so than other cats. Most cats remove feathers and fur from their prey as they eat it, but ocelots pluck off all the feathers and fur before they eat it.
“Leopardus pardalis” is the taxonomic name for ocelots and means like a leopard, but there are no leopards where ocelots are found. They got their name from the Aztec word "tlalocelot," which means field tiger.
Some people keep ocelots as pets, but this is not legal in California. Wild animals do NOT make good pets.
Because of their coat pattern of dots and stripes, ocelots are also known as painted leopards.
Each ocelot has a different coat pattern.
The right and left side patterns and color of an ocelot’s coat are not the same.
Ocelots are the second largest spotted cats in South America, after jaguars.

San Diego Zoo Global has had ocelots since our early days in the 1920s, and our first ocelot birth occurred in 1934.

Today, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park has ocelots on exhibit in Condor Ridge. The San Diego Zoo has an ocelot, named Diego, who is trained as an animal ambassador. Born in 2004, Diego meets guests up close during animal presentations and leashed walks through the Zoo, and he makes appearances on television shows, representing rare and endangered species.

Become an Ocelot
A philanthropic group named the Ocelots enthusiastically supports the mission of San Diego Zoo Global through active involvement and a commitment to education and fund-raising. Ocelots donate funds to the Ocelots Grants Program, which allows purchases of much-needed enrichment items for animals and special pieces of equipment for the Zoo and Safari Park.

Ocelots also have the opportunity to volunteer for special Zoo and Safari Park events and to act as well-informed ambassadors throughout the community, helping to promote our work and goals for the future. Join today!

In the US, the ocelot used to be found throughout Texas and east to Arkansas and Louisiana, but due to hunting and habitat loss, it is now very rare in this country. In fact, researchers believe that there may be as few as 100 ocelots living in the US today. This particular ocelot subspecies, known as the Texas ocelot Leopardus pardalis albescens, is considered endangered, and other ocelot species are vulnerable throughout their habitat.

Because the ocelot is such a gorgeous animal, many people have hunted it for its skin. The skin is usually made into a fur coat, and it can take as many as 25 ocelots to make one coat. People used to pay more for an ocelot coat than they did for a car! We feel that ocelots look better wearing their fur coat than people do. Luckily, it became illegal to bring ocelots or their skins into the US and other countries in 1972. Since very few people buy the skins anymore, ocelots are not hunted as much as they used to be. However, in many areas they are losing their homes when people clear the land of the brush and forests that ocelots need to survive. Roads built through their ranges leave them vulnerable to being hit by cars.

When you see an ocelot, you may wish that you had one, but wild cats do not make good pets. Some pet ocelots in Florida escaped—or were released when people realized that they are not nice or cuddly—and now live in a small, wild colony. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has a Species Survival Plan for ocelots.