The margay or tree ocelot is a “small, long-tailed, smooth-skulled representative of the ocelot” (R.I. Pocock) that is intermediate in size between the ocelot and the oncilla. All three cats have very similar markings. The margay is smaller and more slimly built than the ocelot and has a longer tail. Margay fur is of medium length – soft, and thick. The background color is yellowish-brown to clay-brown on the back and sides and white to buff on the belly and under parts. The fur is marked with dark brown or black, pale-centered, open spots and streaks arranged in longitudinal rows. The tail is long and bushy, with about 12 dark rings and a blackish tip.
The margay can be found in the lowlands of northern Mexico, through Central America, and into South America. Within this range, the species is closely tied to primary forest (tropical dry forest, very humid tropical evergreen forest, very humid premontane forest, and montane cloud forest.
The margay is known for its distinct acrobatic skills and preference for heights. Unlike most cat species, the margay does most of its hunting above ground, preying on arboreal and nocturnal prey, such as rodents, birds, and insects. It is also known to eat fruit. It rests in trees during the day (at least seven feet off of the ground) and is an agile climber and leaper. A margay can ricochet off objects in mid-leap, jump eight feet straight into the air and 12 feet horizontally, and climb down a branch headfirst. It can even hang by its hind feet while manipulating an object with its front feet.
Population estimates for the margay are inexact. Data suggest that margays live at much lower densities than ocelots. This is due to the margay’s arboreal lifestyle. The species is very dependent on forested habitats and very sensitive to deforestation. Habitat loss due to deforestation is now considered to be the major threat to the species. The margay is classified as Least Concern (LC) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is listed under appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Photo above courtesy of John Abbott.
• Lifespan- Up to 20 years (captivity); 12-14 years (wild)
• Weight- 3-9 kg
• Body Measurements- Total Length: 86-130 cm; Height: 35-50 cm
• Status (IUCN)- Least Concern (LC)