Rainforest Ocelot

The Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), is also known as the ‘Painted Leopard’, ‘McKenney’s Wildcat’ or ‘Manigordo’ (in Costa Rica).

The Ocelot is a wild cat distributed over South America (Argentina and Belize) and Central America and Mexico. It has also been reported as far north as Texas and in Trinidad, Caribbean.

Ocelot Characteristics

The Ocelots appearance is similar to that of the domestic cat. Ocelots are graceful and slender cats and grow to be about 2 – 3 feet (65 – 100 centimetres) long (excluding the tail) and weigh around 9 – 14 kilograms on average. Their tails are 1.5 feet (50 centimetres) in length.

The fur of the Ocelot is similar to that of a Jaguar. It is dark brown with irregular shaped spots and stripes. The stripes are edged with black on a yellow/tawny background giving this medium size cat a most distinctive appearance. The Ocelots underlying colouration varies with its habitat, with the base colour of its fur being a rich yellow/cream in more arid areas to a darker yellow/brown in forested habitats.

While similar in appearance to the Oncilla and the Margay, which inhabit the same regions, the Ocelot is larger.

Ocelot Diet

Ocelots feed mainly on the ground. These fast hunters eat small mammals (monkeys), small deer, rabbits, birds, fish, amphibians and snakes. Ocelots are also very good swimmers.

Mostly found in tropical forests, rarely does the ocelot climb trees though it is an excellent climber. During the night, they tend to hunt along open trails, while during the day, they stay hidden within the deeper bush.

Almost all of the prey that the Ocelot hunts is far smaller than itself. Studies suggest that it follows and finds prey by odour trails, but the Ocelot also has very keen vision, including night vision.

Ocelot Habitat

Ocelots are medium-sized cats that live in rain forests and grasslands. Ocelots appear to be better adapted to habitat disturbance and can live in disturbed forests. However, they can be found in a variety of habitats in Belize, from dry scrub to the dense forests. The ocelot will also sleep in the lower branches of trees in its forest habitat. Male and female cats often share territories which can be up to 3 square miles in area.

Ocelot Behaviour

Ocelots are nocturnal (active at night) and also sometimes diurnal (active during the day) 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.

Ocelot Reproduction

When mating, the female will find a den in a cave in a rocky bluff, a hollow tree, or a dense (preferably thorny) thicket. Mating is non-seasonal. The gestation period is estimated to be 70 days. Generally the female will have 2 – 4 kittens, born in the autumn with their eyes closed and a thin covering of hair. The life span of the Ocelot is around 8 – 11 years.

Ocelot Conservation Status

The ocelots 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 Ocelot was classified a ‘vulnerable’ endangered species from the 1980s until 1996, but is now generally considered ‘least concern’ by the 2006 IUCN Red List.

Ocelot Subspecies

The following are the currently recognized subspecies:

Leopardus pardalis pardalis, Amazon Rainforest
Leopardus pardalis aequatorialis, northern Andes and Central America
Leopardus pardalis albescens, Mexico, southwestern Texas
Leopardus pardalis melanurus, Venezuela, Guyana, Trinidad, Barbados, Grenada
Leopardus pardalis mitis, Argentina, Paraguay
Leopardus pardalis nelsoni, Mexico
Leopardus pardalis pseudopardalis, Colombia
Leopardus pardalis puseaus, Ecuador
Leopardus pardalis sonoriensis, Mexico
Leopardus pardalis steinbachi, Bolivia


  • The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped animals and often depicted ocelots in their art.

  • Like many wild cats, it is occasionally kept as a pet. Salvador Dalí frequently traveled with his pet Ocelot, even bringing it aboard the luxury cruise liner SS France.

  • The Belizean name for the ocelot is the same as the margay ‘tiger cat’.

  • The name ‘ocelot’ comes from the Mexican Aztec word ‘tlalocelot’ meaning ‘field tiger’.