Ocelot Day at the zoo is coming back

HARLINGEN — Cameron County’s official Ocelot Conservation Day is almost here.

The popular annual event at Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 4.

The festivities, as always, have kid-centric components which will include a live ocelot from the Cincinnati Zoo as well as an activity book and constructing ocelot masks and magnets.

Experts on ocelots, as well as the live ocelot, will participate in presentations at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.

“It’s difficult to see an ocelot in the wild, because number one they’re rare, and number two, they’re secretive,” said Marion Mason, head ranger at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

“So that’s why we are bringing in an ambassador ocelot which is captive-trained about being around people, so people have an opportunity to see how beautiful this cat is and make some kind of connection with it so that they’ll be inspired to want to take some kind of role in the conservation of it and its habitat,” she added.

It’s been an up-and-down couple of years for South Texas’s ocelot subspecies.

But things are looking up.

TxDOT is currently constructing a dozen underpasses on two highways where ocelot mortality has been high, FM 106 and State Highway 100.

The hope is the underpasses will take ocelots under the highways and away from the vehicles which have proved so deadly.

Between June 2015 and April 2016, seven ocelots — six males and a female — are known to have died after being hit by vehicles in South Texas. In all, the endangered Texas ocelot subspecies numbers about 80, with around 15 of them at Laguna Atascosa.

Fencing along the roadways will funnel the ocelots, deer, raccoons and other animals into the underpasses and safely across to the other side.

“It’s for all ages,” Mason said of presentations planned for Ocelot Day. “We’re going to learn about what goes on at the refuge, and all the different actions we’re taking on their behalf with habitat restoration and under-the-road crossings.”

Additional sponsors of Ocelot Conservation Day are Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Friends of the Laguna Atascosa Refuge and the Payne Auto Group.