Guestpost by Omer of ofcats.com
Costa Rica, as we all know, is a country in Central America. It is bordered by the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean sea on either sides and has nearly eight hundred miles of coastline. Despite its small geographic size, Costa Rica is a world leader on several fronts. For example, it was the first country in the world to abolish its army.
It has been spearheading the way in Americas in terms of Human Development and Environmental Performance, indices that don’t always go along in developing nations. A pioneer in ecotourism, Costa Rica is a fine example for nations that wish to carry their economic progress hand in hand with their environment’s sanctity. By placing nearly a quarter of its territory under a Protected Areas system, Costa Rica is doing just that. And its efforts have borne fruit. Today this small Latin American country is considered to be the greenest in the world. And it possesses the highest density of species found anywhere across the globe.
Naturally, the preservation of habitat means that there is a good biodiversity of predator and prey animals across Costa Rica’s forests. These include no less than six distinct wild cat species, that reside there today. Let’s take a brief look at each of these six wild cats in turn, starting with the largest.
Wildcat Species of Costa Rica
The top land predator in South and Central America is the third-largest big cat overall. Pound for pound it is amongst the strongest, possessing the most powerful jaws in family felidae. A versatile predator, the jaguar is adept at both land and water, taking down a variety of prey animals including peccaries, caiman, deer, foxes and even turtles. A beautiful spotted cat it has been persecuted in the past, alongside Costa Rica’s other wild cats, for its coat. Fortunately, it is now protected and resides in select locations across the country including the national parks Santa Rosa, Corcovado and Tortuguero.
Again one of America’s apex predators that is perhaps the most ubiquitous large predator across the Western Hemisphere. A muscular and athletic animal, the cougar is an ambush predator. It stalks its prey patiently before attacking with full momentum, generally reaching its prey within a couple of bounds. Like the jaguar, it hunts a variety of animals, and like its larger cousin, the puma is faring better owing to better protection of its habitat and prey animals.
This is an otter-like feline that, like the cougar, has a uniform coat. Another versatile cat, the jaguarundi hunts fish, mammals and even birds. Principal threats to this unique cat are loss of habitat and prey since its fur is fortunately not in great demand.
The next three are the beautiful spotted cats of South and Central America – the Ocelot, Margay and Oncilla. Ocelot is the largest, and perhaps the prettiest. With a beautiful tawny coat patterned by rosettes it is gifted with a great natural camouflage. Still the ocelot is a nocturnal predator, making use of its great vision and sense of smell to hunt.
Quite similar in appearance and behavior to the ocelot, is the Margay. A nocturnal and territoreal animal the Margay essentially follows the same hunting patterns as its larger relative, the Ocelot, except for one significant feature that makes margay unique amongst all cats. For margay is the best tree climber amidst all felines, a feat made possible by its flexible ankle joints that allow movement of 180 degrees around the axis, giving the margay nearly ape-like arboreal skills. Like the ocelot it mainly hunts small animals including lizards, frogs and even small monkeys on trees!
Last amongst the wild cats of Costa Rica is the smallest, the Oncilla or Tiger Cat. Also known as the Little Spotted Cat, oncilla is roughly the same size as the domestic cat. A nocturnal and terrestrial predator, the oncilla is also a good tree climber and efficient bird hunter. Other prey animals include rodents and small reptiles.
These are the six wild cats currently documented in Costa Rica. All are masterful predators within their domain, playing their part in maintaining the delicate ecosystem of this beautiful country. With better protection and increased awareness, today they are doing better than in the past. However, it is important to continue to protect them and their habitat, as well as spread the message of conservation in the upcoming generations to preserve these beautiful felines, Costa Rica’s national treasures and ambassadors!
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