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Highly endangered in the United States and rarely seen in the wild, the Texas ocelot is a magificent creature by any standard. Once abundant and healthy, these reatures are now hanging onto the thread of continued existence, in danger of extinction as civilization crowds further into the backwoods of Nature's realm.

The Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), also known as the Painted Leopard, McKenney's Wildcat or Manigordo (in Costa Rica), is a wild cat distributed over South and Central America and Mexico, but is also native to deep South Texas, the only place in North America where the sdmall wildcat can be found in its natural habitat.

The Ocelot's appearance is similar to that of the domestic cat. Its fur resembles that of a Jaguar and was once regarded as particularly valuable. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Ocelots have been killed for their fur. The feline was been classified as a "vulnerable" endangered species.

The Ocelot is mostly nocturnal and very territorial. It will fight fiercely, sometimes to the death, in territorial disputes. Like most felines, it is solitary, usually meeting only to mate. However, during the day it rests in trees or other dense foliage, and will occasionally share its spot with another Ocelot of the same sex. When mating, the female will find a den in a cave in a rocky bluff, a hollow tree, or a dense (preferably thorny) thicket. The gestation period is estimated to be 70 days. Generally the female will have 24 kittens, born in the autumn with their eyes closed and a thin covering of hair.

While the Ocelot is well equipped for an arboreal lifestyle and will sometimes take to the trees, it is mostly terrestrial. Prey includes almost any small animal: monkeys, snakes, rodents, fish, amphibians and birds are common prey, as are small domestic animals such as baby pigs and poultry. Almost all of the prey that the Ocelot hunts is far smaller than itself. Studies suggest that it follows and finds prey via odor trails, but the Ocelot also has very keen vision, including night vision.

The 9th Annual Ocelot Festival in February focuses attention on this rare breed of wildlife deep in South Texas.  All proceeds from the festival go to supporting research and conservation measures to ensure the long-term survival of this small cat whose numbers are now less than 100 in the United States.

To honor the rare creature and to focus attention on its plight, you are encouraged to participate in the Ocelot Conservation Festival Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, sponsored by the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. You can expect to see plenty of live owls, sea turtles, hawks, and snakes, along with many other wild animals! Build a birdhouse, hold a harmless snake and catch a fish in this interactive event geared toward all ages.

Participants can visit booths hosted by the Gladys Porter Zoo of Brownsville, Nature Challenge, Sea Turtle Inc, Sea Life Center, Jr. Angler Program, and participate in a live auction and many other activities for adults and children.

Families, Teachers, Boy & Girl Scout Troops, Outdoor Enthusiasts and anyone looking for an exciting and educational adventure will find this event interesting and rewarding.

For more information, visit the official Web site at  http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/texas/laguna.html

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