The oncilla is the most secretive of Costa Rica's wild cat species
. This beautiful housecoat-sized feline looks much like its larger cousins, the margay, ocelot and jaguar. Its coat is a rich ochre, spotted with block rosettes, helping the oncilla to blend in with the mottled sunlight of the tropical forest understory.
While scientists know very little about the oncilla's natural history, these mysterious cats are primarily nocturnal predators whose favorite foods include small birds, rodents, lizards and amphibians. The oncilla has a long tail that allows it to move adroitly through the trees, though it spends much of ifs time on the forest floor. Adult oncillas measure around 2 to 3 feet in length and weigh only about 5 to 10 pounds.
Females have one or two litters per year, each of which yields up to two kittens. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the oncilla as vulnerable—just a step below endangered species status, but still facing a serious risk of extinction. The greatest threats to oncilla populations in Costa Rica are deforestation and poaching, though hunting or trapping oncillas is now considered criminal activity.
Trapping historically has been an important factor in the population decline of the oncilla; it cakes the pelts of 24 oncillas to make just one fur coat! Oncillas in Costa Rica have a very restricted range, inhabiting only the cloud forests of the Talamanca Mountains and the Tilaran Mountain Range, including the NatureAir destination of La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano National Park.
By Gregory Basto. Courtesy of Nature Landings Magazine