A phantom cat secretively stalks the remnants of thick brush in southernmost Texas. The rare ocelot was thought to have vanished from Texas when biologist Mike Tewes first began to search for the elusive cat 30 years ago.
Dr. Mike Tewes, Regents Professor at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, said, "When I started the project there were several biologists, wildlife biologists, that told me they didn't exist in Texas, and a few said if they do exist they are very rare and you will never catch one, so I was pretty apprehensive at the beginning of the research, and that is why I was really elated when I caught the first one."
Tewes captured and then released his first ocelot on March 2, 1982 on the Corbett Ranch near Raymondville, and he was elated.
"I was in heaven, and I remember calling my major professor, Dr. Morris Hornacker at the University of Idaho, and telling him hey, I caught the first ocelot, and he said that's nice, but what are the chances of catching a second one| It brought me back down to earth real fast."
Five days later, Mike caught his second cat, and from that humble beginning, he earned his doctorate and is now Regents Professor with Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University Kingsville, and a world authority on the endangered ocelot.
"Either, my students or I have captured over 200 ocelots over the years, and that includes ocelots in Mexico as well as in Texas. Typically, in any one year we may catch 8 to 11 ocelots will be a good year," said Tewes.
Biologists estimate no more than 80 ocelots remain in the United States, all in deep South Texas, but thanks to Mike Tewes discovery of their existence three decades ago efforts are being made to save the critical habitat required for their survive.
"The past five years I have been very optimistic about the ocelots, and I can't say that was in the early years. But to see efforts on multiple fronts|Fish and Wildlife Service is doing a lot in terms of habitat restoration with the Nature Conservancy. Texas Parks and Wildlife is helping us with the new ocelot project on the East Foundation. And there are efforts by private individuals to help monitor cats on their properties where as that did not exist even 10 years ago," said Tewes.