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Tiny Ocelot Kitten Born, Big Boon for Zoo

(Image credit: Jamie Delk/Woodland Park Zoo.)

A very special kitten has been born at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, the zoo has announced. The tiny ocelot, a species of semi-endangered cat, was born on Jan. 15, and is doing well, according to animal keepers.

The unnamed female kitten zoo staff just confirmed earlier this week that the little one is a girl is the third offspring born to ocelot parents Bella, age 10, and Brazil, age 15. The pair had their first litter in 2008, when Bella gave birth to female twins.

"Bella's an experienced mother, and she's providing excellent round-the-clock and protective maternal care," said zoo curator Mark Myers in a statement. "The kitten is nursing regularly and has a healthy, round belly."

(Image credit: Jamie Delk/Woodland Park Zoo.)

The kitten and its mother are currently being kept behind the scenes at the Woodland Park Zoo, to allow mother and baby to bond properly, but the staff is keeping close watch on the pair. Brazil, father of the kitten, is back on display. Ocelot dads leave all child-rearing duties to the females.

See a video, below, of Bella and her kitten at just 5 days old.

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Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) are native to Central and South America, with some sparse populations ranging as far north as the United States. Sometimes ocelots are glimpsed in small corners of southeastern Texas and Arizona.

The cats formerly roamed Arkansas, Louisiana and other southern U.S. states, but have disappeared from their former habitats. Today, only 100 or so individuals are thought to remain in the United States, according to the zoo.

Although the International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the species as one of "least concern" globally, ocelots are considered endangered within the United States.

(Image credit: Jamie Delk/Woodland Park Zoo.)

With their spotted, short-haired coats, the cats bear a resemblance to an extremely overgrown house cat. As adults, they weigh between 24 and 35 pounds (11 and 16 kilograms), about the size of a cocker spaniel, and can grow between 2.5 and 5 feet (0.7 to 1.5 meters) long.

Solitary, secretive and nocturnal, ocelots live in a wide variety of habitats, from grasslands to mangrove forests to tropical jungles, hunting reptiles and small mammals for food.

The kitten at the Woodland Park Zoo is slated to appear in public for the first time in about a month and a half. Zoo officials said the kitten is a valuable addition to the approximately 100 ocelots currently held in North American zoos, and will aid the effort to maintain the captive breeding population.

Reach Andrea Mustain at amustain@techmedianetwork.com. Follow her on Twitter @AndreaMustain.

Andrea Mustain was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a B.S. degree from Northwestern University and an M.S. degree in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.