From the Highway Strip to the Scent Strip

An olfactory approach to saving America's endangered ocelots

Nov 1, 1999
Outside Magazine

"We're not hosting a cologne competition. This is a serious scientific experiment!" says Dallas Zoo research curator Cynthia Bennett when asked about her new weapon in the fight to save the endangered ocelot from extinction: Calvin Klein's Obsession. Bennett is part of a research team looking for enticing smells to lure the country's remaining 100-odd ocelots—which inhabit brush country in south Texas—away from roads and into safer habitat.

Last January, she and her colleagues exposed three of the zoo's resident felines to putrid rat and bobcat excrement. While the ocelots responded with some mildly enthusiastic sniffing, nothing triggered a frenzy of rubbing, rolling, and drooling like a spritz of Obsession (the cologne belonged to the boyfriend of one of the zoo technicians). This month, Bennett will be testing a handful of rival fragrances to isolate the scent her discriminating ocelots like best. She also hopes to hear from Calvin Klein, which has yet to respond to her letter requesting assistance. "I dunno," speculates Bennett. "Maybe they didn't like being studied alongside rat feces."