Looking southward from its last remaining Texas habitat, the endangered ocelot faces a deadly gauntlet if it is to cross the Rio Grande and reach its ancestral tribe mates. Decimated by inbreeding, the spotted wildcat’s future depends very much on mingling with its Mexican cousins.
Yet reaching them means traversing miles of highways, wind turbines, open fields and natural gas pipelines. The Mexican side is no less perilous. Development has also wiped out natural habitat there, and years of cartel violence have hobbled research into Mexican ocelot populations just south of the Rio Grande.
The small cat’s latest challenge is the Trump administration’s push to erect a wall along much of the Texas-Mexico border. Environmental groups and anti-wall politicians have argued that a physical barrier dividing the two countries could destroy the species by disrupting its migration patterns.
In reality, however, the ocelot’s fight for survival is far more complicated. An examination of the science and politics surrounding the species shows the border wall is just one small piece of an ocelot puzzle that will require close cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico to solve even as diplomatic tensions between the countries rise.
DNA studies show Texas ocelots haven’t crossed the border regularly for decades and live hemmed into two groups miles from the Rio Grande. Over the years, two general strategies for saving them have emerged. But both face significant challenges and could take years or decades before they begin boosting ocelot numbers.
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