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Species Facts

Resembling the ocelot and the margay, the oncilla (also known as the northern tiger cat) is one of the smallest South American cats. An adult weighs only 1.5-3 kg.

  • Scientific Designation: Leopardus tigrinus
  • Endangered Status: Vulnerable (VU)
  • Lifespan: 10-14 years (in the wild); up to ~17 years (in captivity)
  • Weight: 1.5-3.0 kg
  • Body Length: 40-55 cm
  • Height: 25 cm
  • Tail Length: 25-42 cm


The background color of the oncilla’s thick, soft fur varies from light to dark ochre with black or dark brown spots and open rosettes. The paler belly fur is covered with dark spots, and large, black spots form seven to thirteen irregular rings on the tail. The oncilla is often confused with the margay. However, the oncilla is smaller and more gracefully built and has relatively large ears and a narrower muzzle. The oncilla’s eyes are a light honey brown and smaller than the margay’s. 

Almost nothing is known of the oncilla’s feeding habits in the wild, but it is known that the prey it takes is usually small (less than 100 grams) and terrestrial. Examples of the oncilla’s prey include rodents, birds, and reptiles.

Map is centered on South America. Most of the northern half of the continent is shaded in, indicating that the oncilla is extant, or resident, in these areas.

Species Distribution

The oncilla has a broad geographic distribution in Central and South America. Within this broad range, oncillas are reported to occur in forests, subtropical forests, savannas (Cerrado), wet savannas, and semiarid thorny scrub.

Distribution map courtesy of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), compiled in 2016.

Threats to the Oncilla

In the wild, the oncilla appears to be rare, but there is little information on its status and abundance. Threats to the oncilla include habitat loss and hunting (for fur).

It is classified as Vulnerable (VU) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is listed in appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

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