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Oncilla - The little spotted cat


Like a silhouette that goes bump in the night, the Oncilla is one of the smallest South America cats (4 to 8 pounds). Only the Kodkod is smaller. This fine feline prefers the high mountain forest and is found at elevations much higher than the other small competing species within their territories such as the Margay and Ocelot. They are similar in appearance to the margay, and can be hard to differentiate in the wild. Little is known about the population status as they have never been studied in the wild, and there is little understanding of its habitat requirements, density, and coexistence with other small cats.


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. Their pattern of rosettes tends to be less dark and more blotchy than the margay's, its fur is not as thick, its body is more slender, and its tail not as long. 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.


They are agile climbers and excellent hunters, and they make their meals of the smaller rodents, shrews, small primates, birds, insects and reptiles. In Brazil the Oncilla are found in subtropical forest highlands, early secondary forests and even in the arid scrub regions.


After a gestation period of about 75-78 days, the female will give birth to a litter of one to three kittens, though one is the most common. The kittens will be nursed until about 12 weeks of age at which time they will begin an exclusive diet of prey items brought to them by their mother. The kittens will stay with their mother until they are about one year of age. Sexual maturity for females occurs at about 12-15 months of age, and at 18-24 months for males.


Males are territorial patrolling boundaries and are known to be aggressive towards females of the species. Few 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 has taken its toll on the 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.