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Endangered ocelots are the focus of this scientist's upcoming visit to USU

Carnivore researcher, Dr. Lisanne Petracca stands in the center of a savanna landscape
Lisanne Petracca
Dr. Lisanne Petracca, carnivore researcher at Texas A&M

Though ocelots are common in some parts of Central and South America, they are an endangered species in the U.S., where they once ranged widely across Texas and adjacent states. A researcher speaking at Utah State University this week is leading an effort to aid their recovery.

An adult female ocelot vocalizing on January 12, 20220

That's the sound of a female ocelot vocalizing to a male.

“An ocelot is a medium sized spotted cat," Lisanne Petracca said. "They are common in Central and South America and are endangered here in the United States and are only found in South Texas.”

Petracca is an assistant professor of carnivore ecology at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. The ocelots that she studies were once a more common species with a range that extended throughout most of Texas and parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, there are now potentially less than 100 ocelots left in the U.S., split between two remaining populations. Trying to figure out how many are really here isn’t easy.

“In order to get a sense of how many ocelots are out there on the landscape, it is hard because they are elusive, they are low density, and they're hard to study," Petracca said. So as a first line of action, we will be using camera traps."


Working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection along with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, East Foundation, Cincinnati Zoo and Natural Resources Institute, Petracca uses these cameras along with scat detection dogs, GPS collars and genetic analyses to establish a baseline population of ocelots. But this is just one part of a much larger project.

“There's some really, really good momentum to see recovery of the ocelot within the United States. And to that end, we're actually working towards a reintroduction of ocelots to create what is essentially a third wild population that can be buffered from some of the risks that the two current populations face," she said.

Petracca will speak about this project, at USU’s Logan Campus Wednesday and Thursday at 4 p.m. She will also discuss a new project that studies the impact of the border barrier between the U.S. and Mexico on the movement of mountain lions.

Learn more about her research here and watch the video of the mother ocelot and offspring below.