by Sharon Wilcox on 13 March 2023
Sharon Wilcox is senior representative for the Texas program of Defenders of Wildlife, focusing on wildlife habitat connectivity and restoration.
Banner image: Jake Strouf and his wife were driving in the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge when they got this rare sighting of ocelots crossing the road. Image courtesy of Jake Strouf.
On the main road of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in South Texas, two ocelots recently jumped out in front of a car. The mother ocelot then went back across the road for a kitten in the brush.
Sightings of ocelots like this are rare in the refuge, even though it’s home to a breeding population of these wild cats. Ocelots are typically nocturnal and most active just after sunset and before sunrise, when they can hunt under the cover of darkness. The cats are quite shy and prefer to stay hidden in the brush of their preferred Tamaulipan thornforest habitat. While visitors often spot bobcats at the refuge, this glimpse of the ocelot family was an unusual and special encounter.
Though exciting, its setting on a road is a sobering reminder that when traveling through South Texas, you’re in ‘ocelot country.’
The ocelot is now endangered in the U.S., but it once thrived from South Texas to South America, hiding in the deep grasslands and thornforest. Now, just 1% of the ocelots’ optimal habitat remains in South Texas, most of which is fragmented and separated by high-speed highways.
As a result, accidental vehicle collisions have been an unrelenting threat to ocelots. In the past 20 years, most documented ocelot deaths occurred on Texas roadways. Between 2015-2016, eight ocelots were killed by vehicles over a span of just 11 months. With only 60 to 80 ocelots left in Texas, these losses are both substantial and unsustainable.
The surge of road-killed ocelots over that difficult year, however, prompted fast action and change. Led by Texas Department of Transportation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state has constructed more than 27 wildlife crossings, many built in ocelot-occupied areas. When developing these crossings, the state considered ocelot behavior – they are shy, so the crossings either provide a high level of shelter or were built underground.
Wildlife crossings work and have reduced the number of ocelots killed on roads substantially in South Texas. My organization, Defenders of Wildlife, works with leaders at the federal, state, and local levels to advocate for more wildlife crossings, including a provision of $350 million in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, to help improve the options for animals crossing busy roads. Wildlife crossings also help other resident species such as bobcats, armadillos, javelinas, and alligators, and also keep the roads clear for driver safety.
The sighting of the ocelot mother and her kitten crossing the road was both a heartwarming and worrying sight, as it reminds us of the major risks that roads pose to them and other wildlife, and the need to provide animals a way to cross safely.
Got a sluggish bird list this year? CBC's are conducted around the globe and many are open to the public. BUT, the best are within your reach right here in the RGV. Check out the list courtesy of Houston Audubon Society. Head over to there page to see other Texas areas.
See more details on ours, TXLA CBC Tuesday, Dec 27, 2002.
Not familiar with the CBC program? check out the National Audubon Answers page. Critical information if you have never participated before. It's not your regular birding tour....
Rio Grande Valley and South Texas CountsDecember 14, 2022 - January 5, 2023
A hearty congratulations to the Gladys Porter Zoo on the arrival of Leelou! We look forward to highlighting this cat, her potential role in conservation breeding, and her wild Texas cousins at the Ocelot Conservation Festival (mark your calendars for March 5, 2023!)
READ the article @ my RGV
Go Lights Out, Texas! Fall migration season begins August 15 and runs through November 30.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology department developed BirdCast a tool for predicting and monitoring annual bird migration. As you know, one-third of birds migrating through the United States pass through Texas each year. Birds tell us the effects of land use, pollution, climate change, and weather trends. But they need our help!
Migratory birds face a number of challenges during fall and spring migration windows, and it’s critical we work with our communities to reduce the millions of annual bird fatalities. Birds are easily distracted by the lights on tall buildings and the glass façade within our urban landscape. During peak migration periods, turn off as many lights as possible in rural, residential, and commercial areas, reducing overall light emissions. You can learn more about best practices and share your efforts on social media through the Lights Out Texas program, coordinated by Audubon Texas with partners from across the state. Additionally, the American Bird Conservancy has developed a suite of resources to reduce glass collisions by creating bird friendly buildings.
Guidelines everyone can use:
Ocelot Conservation Day 2022 was held March 6th at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville TX. Over 3500 visitors showed up at the zoo and it felt like all of them participated in our activities! We were so happy that the weather was perfect.
It was fun day with a variety of activities: make a button or magnet, color an ocelot mask, see live animal presentations by zoo staff, learn about ocelots from Hilary Swarts, visit with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Game Wardens at the Operation Game Thief trailer, shop for ocelot merchandise, and learn about the Friends of Laguna Atascosa and Laguna Atascosa NWR. Games included Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Ocelot, Bean Bag Toss, How Far Can an Ocelot Jump?, puzzles, and Discovery Boxes. Kids could collect 6 ocelot pawprints and get a special event sticker at the Friends store.
Click here to see a gallery of pictures from the day!
We especially want to express our appreciation to the following groups and sponsors who made this event so successful:
Gladys Porter Zoo and Staff who helped so much with the setup and hosting the event on zoo grounds.
Defenders of Wildlife who provided a generous sponsorship for the event AND provided funding for 263 kids to attend the event for free! Download their free Bordercats Booklet for Kids here.
Laguna Atascosa NWR Staff and Volunteers who brought a lot of information, time and energy to the event (and even some of their relatives and friends).
Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Wardens with their informative trailer.
Texas Master Naturalists from both Rio Grande Valley Chapter and South Texas Border Chapter who provided energy, enthusiasm and great volunteer support.
Friends of Laguna Atascosa Board Members, Volunteers and Families who support the work of Friends and the refuge.
Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. 22688 Buena Vista Rd., Los Fresnos, TX 78566
© 2022 Friends of Laguna Atascosa NWR. All Rights Reserved