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      Nature Report: Rare Ocelots

      Jody Mays emerges from the thorny chaparral at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge with one of the rarest cats in the United States.

      There are estimated to be fewer than 50 ocelots remaining in the country, and the only place they occur is Deep South Texas.

      Jody Mays, USFWS Biologist, says, "This is a young male ocelot that we have never captured before, and it looks like he is in really, really good health."

      Biologists at the refuge have been studying the ocelots for some 30 years. The cats are live trapped and sedated. Researchers then weigh, measure and radio collar the elusive felines to monitor their movements.

      One important thing researchers have learned over the decades is that ocelots require thick brush to survive, and that particular habitat has been greatly diminished in southernmost Texas.

      Mays says, "Overall, a good general estimate is somewhere around 500 to 800 acres of really good habitat can support one male and maybe two females."

      In addition to Laguna Atascosa, the only other documented breeding population of ocelots in the United States is on rancher Frank Yturria's property north of Raymondville.

      Lack of suitable habitat is the number one concern limiting the recovery of the endangered ocelot, and wildlife officials are working with private landowners like Yturria to protect brush land for the species.

      Frank Yturria, Rancher, says, "There are now 2,500 acres that I have set aside not only for the ocelot but for all wildlife."

      Mays says, "The ocelot is a really special unique animal. I think of it as a characteristic of Texas. It kind of represents the wildness that is Texas."