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Endangered ocelots on exhibit at Oregon Zoo

Friday, August 18, 2006

The “Honeymooners” have arrived at the Oregon Zoo, adorned with fur coats marked with black-rimmed blotches and spots that are as unique as fingerprints.

Ralph and Alice are the zoo’s first ocelots, born in 1993 at zoos in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The South American big cats were transferred to the Phoenix Zoo in 1996, where they produced three offspring. The pair arrived at the Oregon Zoo in April, weighing about 40 pounds together.

Their new exhibit opens Friday, Aug. 18.

The ocelot’s coat almost led to its demise. For centuries, ocelots have been hunted for their fur. During the 1960s and ’70s more than 200,000 of the cats were killed each year. Ocelots were placed on the endangered species list in 1982, and it is now illegal to hunt them in the United States.

Hunting and habitat destruction are directly linked to the animal’s dwindling numbers in the wild. The zoo exhibits the southern Brazilian species, which lives in tropical and subtropical forests of southern Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.

Although known to climb trees and even swim well, the ocelot spends most of its time hunting on the ground.

“Adding ocelots provides us with an excellent opportunity to educate the public about the need for preserving this endangered animal and its habitat,” said Oregon Zoo Director Tony Vecchio.

Since 2002, the zoo has been working with the Brazilian government and ocelot consortiums to help in the ocelot survival effort. The zoo hopes to breed the endangered cats, adding new genetics to the North American captive population.

Their new home is part of the Oregon Zoo’s Forests of the World exhibit, replicating a South American rainforest with real and artificial plants, vines, logs and roots, and includes a waterfall and small pond. Artificial rocks with ledges provide a lounging place for the cats.

“The cats prefer to hang out in the treetops, so the challenge was to place branches and ledges in such a way that the cats will feel secure yet be visible to our guests,” said Vecchio.

The exhibit was designed with breeding the ocelots in mind. Off-exhibit holding space for an expecting mother and her kittens was provided, as well as the flexibility to separate the adult cats when required.

The zoo opens at 9 a.m. daily and is located five minutes west of downtown Portland, off Highway 26. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who take the bus or MAX receive 50 cents off zoo admission. Call TriMet Customer Service, 503-238-RIDE (7433), or visit www.trimet.org for fare and route information.

General admission ranges from $6.50 to $9.50 per person. Infants two and under are free. A parking fee of $1 per car is also required. Additional information is available at www.oregonzoo.org or by calling 503-226-1561

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