Tree ocelot, Long-Tailed Spotted cat
The margay (Leopardus wiedii) is a small wild cat native to Central and South America. Until the 1990s, margays were hunted illegally for the wildlife trade, which resulted in a large population decrease.
The margay is very similar to the larger ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) in appearance, although the head is a little shorter, the eyes larger, and the tail and legs longer. Its fur is brown and marked with numerous rows of dark brown or black rosettes and longitudinal streaks. The undersides are paler, ranging from buff to white, and the tail has numerous dark bands and a black tip. The backs of the ears are black with circular white markings in the centre.
The margay lives in northern Mexico, Central America, and South America, east of the Andes mountains, and as far to the south as Uruguay and northern Argentina. Although reported occasionally outside forested areas, like shaded coffee or cocoa plantations, this wild cat is associated more strongly with forest habitat than other tropical American cats. It inhabits almost exclusively dense forests, ranging from tropical evergreen forests to tropical dry forests and high cloud forests.
The margay is a solitary and primarily nocturnal animal. In southern Brazil, however, it has been recorded as being active during the day as well. It is an agile and excellent climber and is able to descend headfirst from a tree or hang by one hind foot from a branch. It mainly rests and sleeps in trees, making its nests in hollows, and is regarded as being more arboreal and better adapted to living in trees than other species of cat. Nevertheless, margays hunt and travel mostly while on the ground. Margays, like most cats, are territorial. Their home ranges to some extent may overlap, but individual animals keep their distance from one another. They mark their territory with urine and secretions that come from scent glands between their toes and on their faces. Males have additional glands on their tails for this purpose.
Margays are carnivores and eat a wide variety of prey, including both terrestrial and arboreal mammals, birds, birds’ eggs, reptiles, amphibians, arthropods, and fruit.
Margays are serially monogamous animals, forming temporary pair bonds during the mating season. After mating, these pairs may stay together throughout the breeding season, sometimes even hunting together. Males leave before the birth of the kittens and do not help to rear them. The natural mating season goes from October to January, though it may be year-round in the deep tropics. After a gestation of 76-85 days, the young are born, either one or two. The kittens open their eyes when they are about 2 weeks old, and begin to go outside the den at around 5 weeks old. Weaning occurs at about 8 weeks, but the kittens take nearly a year to attain their full adult size and usually do not start breeding until the age of 2 to 3. Females are thought to give birth once every two years only.
Habitat destruction is the major threat to the margay, through deforestation, as much of the Amazon rainforest is being cleared for pasture, agriculture, and road building. The margay’s arboreal nature and its naturally low reproductive output and low densities make it particularly vulnerable in the face of this threat. Over the next ten years, it is expected that populations of margay in the Amazon will become more isolated and fragmented. Illegal hunting in some areas is a continuing problem, and margays are also illegally captured for the pet trade.
The global population size of the margay has not been quantified. According to the IUCN Red List, this species is predominantly uncommon to rare throughout its range. Margay’s numbers are decreasing and it is currently classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List.