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An ocelot is a highly endangered breed of wild cat, with a range through South and Central America and parts of South Texas. The ocelot typically weighs between 20 and 33 pounds, (10 to 15 kilograms), and is notable for a striking spotted black and gold pelt, similar to that of a leopard or jaguar.
The ocelot is a nocturnal species, and generally quite solitary, though it will sometimes share a den with an ocelot of the same gender. For female ocelots, pregnancy typically lasts for around 70 days, and results in two to four kittens. Being carnivorous, ocelots will eat all types of small prey, including birds, monkeys, snakes, and rodents. The ocelot has a very strong sense of smell, and will follow prey by scent; it also has very good night vision that makes it easy to track animals.
As far back as the ancient Aztecs, the ocelot has been valued and hunted for its fur. Before ocelot trade was banned by the United States in 1972, more than 130,000 ocelot furs were imported annually, and were used to make rugs, fur coats, hats, and other products.
Though official trade in ocelots has been banned, the worldwide ocelot population is still highly at risk. Much of their range has been converted into ranches and suburbs, forcing them to find new homes or starve. Many ocelots are also killed by cars each year. Today, scientists estimate that there are probably less than 100 wild ocelots in the United States. Poaching is still a major threat to the ocelot's existence. An ocelot fur coat can be sold for $40,000 US Dollars, or more, and many people keep live ocelots as pets, for which they are willing to pay thousands of dollars.
Conservation organizations are working to preserve land as a refuge for ocelots; the Laguna Atacosta preserve in South Texas works to ensure their continued survival. A program called the Brazilian Ocelot Consortium, which is based at ten zoos throughout the United States, takes in Brazilian ocelots and breeds them in captivity, working to increase their population.