Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

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March 31, 2010

Rare cat found dead in county

Body of male ocelot found along U.S. 180 West

PALO PINTO — A rare Texas mammal – an ocelot – showed up dead on the side of U.S. 180, east of Palo Pinto. But even in death, the cat is drawing attention.

“It’s an extremely rare species,” Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Game Warden Matt Waggoner said of the dead cat. “It is getting attention.”

A county resident discovered the 35-40 pound mature male cat early Sunday morning, which was apparently killed by a car on the side of the highway, said Waggoner.

“She thought it was a bobcat and noticed it was in pretty good condition,” he said, adding that the driver put the lifeless cat in her vehicle. “I don’t think she realized it wasn’t a bobcat until she got home.”

According to Waggoner, the driver’s husband identified the cat as an ocelot when she arrived home and they started contacting local game wardens.

The TPWD will study and do DNA tests and collect scientific data and he said the animal might end up in a university setting.

“It’s so rare and not many people have any [experience with the species],” the game warden said. “[TPWD] is making sure it’s taking the time and doing it right with this animal.”

The northern edge of ocelots’ habitat extends into South Texas, mainly in the Rio Grande Valley area.

“It’s federally and state endangered, highly rare and its natural range goes as far north as Brownsville and southern Texas,” said Waggoner. “It’s kind of weird it ended up here.”

The animal was once one of the most traded and hunted because of its beautiful coat.

“There is a possibility somebody might have been illegally breeding [the cat],” he added. “Zoos are allowed to have them, but these animals are endangered in Mexico and Texas and listed [as “endangered”] with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department.”

He said the mature male cat, though dead, appeared in relatively good condition and looked like he was hit by a car, according to Waggoner.

“[Ocelots are] so rare, there’s not a whole lot known about them,” he said. “We’re still in the dark as why it’s here and how it got [to Palo Pinto County].”

Staff writer Libby Cluett can be reached at (940) 325-4465, ext. 3422, or lcluett@mineralwellsindex.com.

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