This week’s look at a mammal species you often don’t see covered in wildlife documentaries is found from Northern Mexico, through Central America and into South America, reaching as far south as Argentina and Uruguay. Similar feline species include the stockier Ocelot and the smaller Oncilla. It spends virtually all its time in a variety of forest habitats and is an expert climber, spending much of its time in the trees.
Its hind feet can rotate inwards through 180 degrees, allowing it to be one of only two members of the cat family that can descend trees head first- the other being the Clouded Leopard. Primarily nocturnal and solitary, it spends most of its time predating tree-dwelling small mammals and birds. However, it’s also known to hunt larger creatures such as Agouti or young Deer and supplements its diet with reptiles, insects and fruit.
Once heavily persecuted for its magnificent fur, it’s listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN. Between 1976 and 1984, 14,000 Margays were traded each year to end up as fur coats and other fashion accessories. They were often caught in traps set for an even more valuable prize- Ocelot fur. Illegal hunting remains a problem and they’re often captured for the pet trade, but its main threat is that of deforestation, as it’s particularly sensitive to habitat loss and general disturbance. Low population densities and reproductive rates exacerbate the problem.
With further fragmentation of its core habitats highly likely in the next few years, it will probably be classed as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN very soon. Encouragingly, it’s now legally protected across the majority of its range. Relatively little is known about this species, but it’s hoped that increasing use of camera traps and radio tracking will help shed more light on its ecology and behaviour. There are currently ten recognised subspecies.