All About the Wild Cats in Costa Rica

Guestpost by Omer of

Costa Rica, as we all know, is a country in Central America. It is bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea on either side 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 and one of the top world wildlife destinations.

It has been spearheading the way in the 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, creating an amazing place for wildlife viewing. 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 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.

Wild Cats in Costa Rica

1. Jaguar

Wildcat Species of Costa Rica - Jaguar

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.

2. Cougar

Wildcat Species of Costa Rica - Cougar

Again one of America’s apex predators 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.

3. Jaguarundi

Wildcat Species of Costa Rica - Jaguarundi

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.

4. Ocelot

Wildcat Species of Costa Rica - Ocelot

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 great natural camouflage. Still, the ocelot is a nocturnal predator, making use of its great vision and sense of smell to hunt.

5. Margay

Wildcat Species of Costa Rica - Margay

Quite similar in appearance and behavior to the ocelot is the Margay. A nocturnal and territorial 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!

6. Oncilla

Wildcat Species of Costa Rica - Oncilla

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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Last Updated on June 6, 2023

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