In a sad update to the ocelot conservation stories I wrote earlier this month, yet another ocelot has died on the South Texas roads.
As I wrote previously, with the Texas ocelot population dwindling to dozens of animals, every cat counts. Every ocelot lost poses a serious threat to the survival of the species here, at the northern end of its range.
I visited South Texas early this summer to learn more about wildlife issues along the border. While I was afield with researcher Hilary Swarts at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, the radio collar on one young ocelot was emitting a “mortality signal.” The collar had ceased moving. Fortunately, the ocelot had merely shed its collar, and it was still roaming the native thornscrub.
Unfortunately, the day my ocelot story ran, another ocelot wandered onto Texas road FM 100 and was killed by a vehicle. This road has become a bit of an ocelot deathtrap; there is a cement barrier in the road that makes it difficult for ocelots to pass.
The male killed this month was at least the third killed on this stretch of road.
While a sad loss, hopefully it can help bring attention to the issues facing Texas ocelots. The death highlights the urgent need for wildlife-friendly roads in this rapidly-growing region.
The Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge has been very active in promoting ocelot conservation, including improvements to roads and funding habitat protection through the sale of an ocelot license plate. Groups like this play an essential role in advocating for refuges.
Connecting habitat remains one of the most viable strategies for saving the ocelot. Both The Nature Conservancy and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are restoring thornscrub and working with private landowners so that ocelots have room to roam.
The more habitat, the more resilient the population will be against losses like this.
Since I published these stories, the border issues in South Texas have only become more publicized, intense, contentious and heartbreaking.
Amidst this human tragedy, the ocelot carries on, mostly out of sight and out of mind. What future does it face in the border country? Like so many stories here, the ending to this one remains uncertain.