In the simplest of terms, they’re trying to herd cats. The dozen wildlife crossings being constructed on two highways, which have taken more than their share of ocelot lives, are experimental, wildlife officials say.
The plan is for chain-link fencing along FM 106 and State Highway 100 in WillacyCounty to funnel ocelots to the underpasses, allowing them to bypass the highways safely.
So far, it’s been a grim year and a half for the endangered subspecies.
Between June 2015 and April of this year, 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.
But U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say no ocelot highway fatalities have been reported since April.
“I’m probably as proud of those wildlife crossings as anything else that’s happened here since I’ve been here at Laguna,” said Boyd Blihovde, the refuge manager. “They are probably going to do more to help ocelots rebound here than anything else — just getting ocelots off roads.
“This is new, basically an experiment,” he said. “Nobody’s really tested sufficiently how well these crossings will work, but we’re really excited.” Small, fast and moving at night, ocelots have had a long and losing experience on the remote Texas highways that cut through the diminishing habitat where they’re still found. “The fencing will go along parallel to the road on each side of the road, and will funnel — hopefully — as much wildlife as possible into the crossings,” Blihovde said. “We’re hoping white-tailed deer will use them in some cases, and other species, too.”
By RICK KELLEY Staff WriterCan highway underpasses save endangered South Texas cats?