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Oncilla - Leopardus tigrinus

By: C.M.Shorter

The Oncilla is one of the smallest Wild Cats in the South America weighing in between 4 - 8 lbs, only slightly larger than the Asian Flat Headed Cat which weighs only a mere 3 to 5 lbs. Only its South American neighbor, the Kodkod is smaller within the borders of this continent and both have an extremely clever plan for survival! The Kodkod made a niche for surviving by taking up residence in Chile along the coastal borders which is relatively void of competing carnivorous species. Whereas the Oncilla prefers the high mountain forest and is found at elevations much higher than the other smaller competing species within their territories such as the Margay and Ocelot. In Columbia they are found almost exclusively in areas above 1,500 metres and range up as far as 4,500 metres to the mountain snowline where the Puma and Pampas Cat also occur.
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The Oncilla is another of our Wild Cats with an exquisitely beautiful fur coat. They are typically tan to tawny in color marked throughout the length of their body and feet with symmetrical spotted patterns, with brown spots fading to black in coloring. Eyes are rounded, with golden to brown irises. The Oncilla is partially arboreal and has an exceptionally long tail for negotiating the treetop canopies. Its markings have given the Oncilla the common names of Tigrina, Little Spotted Cat and Tiger Cat by the local people.

Although the Oncilla has a petite frame, they are agile climbers and excellent hunters. The Oncilla makes meals of smaller prey than the Margay and Ocelot sharing the same territory which allows these species to coexist with limited competition. Oncillas make meals of the smaller rodents, small primates, birds, insects and reptiles indigenous in these areas. Coffee plantations, often established in the cloud forests regions, provide some opportunity for observation of this little studied cat and suggests they may tolerate human interference better than the shy Kodkod who do not adapt at all to altered man-made environments or activity. In Brazil the Oncilla are found in subtropical forest highlands, early secondary forests and even in the arid scrub regions.

Males are territorial patrolling boundaries and are known to be aggressive towards females of the species. Few Oncilla exist in Zoological Parks and they do not breed well in captivity with a very high infant mortality rate. Widely hunted for the fur trade and exploited like the Jaguar, Margay, Ocelot, and Snow Leopard has taken its toll on the Oncilla population. Now offered protection with the exception of Ecuador, Guyana, Nicaragua and Peru where hunting is allowed, the Oncilla is increasingly rare and now placed on CITES Appendix I.

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Scientific Name: Leopardus tigrinus
Common Name(s): Oncilla, Tiger Cat, Little Spotted Cat
Range: Costa Rica into Northern Argentina
Average Weight: 2 - 3kg (4 - 8lbs)
Length: 75 - 95 cm (30 -39")
Diet: Carnivorous. Smaller rodents, small primates, birds, insects and reptiles.
Gestation Period: 74 - 76 Days
Cub Maturity: 6 - 8 Months
Cubs Per Litter: 1 - 3 Kittens
Lifespan: 10 - 14 years in the wild. Captive individuals recorded to live up to 23 years.
Predators: Man.
Social Structure: Solitary
Territory Size: 22-58km (12-32 miles)
Conservation Status: Offered no protection with hunting allowed in Ecuador, Guyana, Nicaragua and Peru. Placed on CITES Appendix I

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