- Crea­ture Fea­ture: Oncilla

Se­cre­tive Fe­line is Rarely Spot­ted in the Wild

Howler Magazine - - Featured Contents - by Vern Veer

Oncilla, of­ten re­ferred to as the lit­tle spot­ted cat, or in Costa Rica as the tigrillo, is the small­est species of wild­cat in this coun­try. Liv­ing in the moun­tain forests at al­ti­tudes above 4,900 feet, on­cil­las are rarely seen in the wild. For­tu­nately, this is not due to en­dan­ger­ment but rather to their se­cre­tive na­ture.

Weigh­ing be­tween three and six pounds, on­cil­las have a tail that is slightly shorter than their body. Their stun­ning fur pat­terns vary from tan to ochre shades of yel­low, si­enna, red and um­ber. Dark rosettes cover the up­per side of their coat while the un­der­side is pale, with just a few spots. About one-fifth of these kit­ties are com­pletely black. The oncilla's beau­ti­ful fur has made it a tar­get of ex­ces­sive hunt­ing in the past. Loss of habi­tat due to cul­ti­va­tion and hu­man en­croach­ment has also threat­ened the species' sur­vival.

Be­ing a very good climber en­ables the oncilla to spend part of its life ar­bo­re­ally. The tail is used for bal­ance in mov­ing across the tree­tops. These nim­ble cats are also very good swim­mers. On­cil­las are cre­pus­cu­lar and noc­tur­nal, mean­ing ac­tive at twi­light and night. As car­ni­vores, they feast on birds, ro­dents, eggs, in­ver­te­brates and small pri­mates.

Con­sis­tent with their se­cre­tive be­hav­ior, on­cil­las are soli­tary and only in­ter­act with each other dur­ing mat­ing sea­son. They do vo­cal­ize, with sounds rang­ing from young males purring to adult males growl­ing when they meet each other. On­cil­las reach sex­ual ma­tu­rity at about 2 years old, mat­ing in spring and sum­mer. Fol­low­ing a ges­ta­tion pe­riod of about 10 weeks, fe­males give birth to small lit­ters of one to three kit­tens. The kit­tens are very vul­ner­a­ble dur­ing the first two months of life. They open their eyes be­tween eight and 17 days af­ter birth, de­velop all their teeth at three weeks and then are ready for solid food at about 56 days. Life ex­pectancy for on­cil­las in the wild is about 11 years, while cap­tive cats have been known to live for 17 years.

Again ow­ing to on­cil­las' se­cre­tive ex­is­tence, the like­li­hood of spot­ting one in the wild is not very good. For­tu­nately, it is pos­si­ble to view these beau­ti­ful crea­tures in one of the wildlife parks and refuges where many have a home in Costa Rica. Four places they live in the wild are Cor­co­v­ado, Manuel An­to­nio and Chirripo Na­tional Parks, and La Amis­tad In­ter­na­tional Park.

These nim­ble cats are also very good swim­mers.

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