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Category: "Margay"

Margay, wizards of the tree tops

by Ed  

Cat of the Month ~ August 2010

South American Margays (Leopardus Wiedii) are one of the most beautiful, agile and mysterious of the spotted cats. They are midway in size between the Ocelot and the Oncilla, but the Margay displays longer legs and tail than both these other cat species. Their soft, thick coat is brownish yellow through tan, with black spots and stripes. The belly, chest, throat, chin, and insides of the legs are bright white.

A captive Margay

Margay, Agile cats with vocal talents too!
Photograph: Marcio Motta - Under Creative Commons License

They generally have two dark cheek stripes on each side of the face. Their tail is very long and marked with broad rings, and a black tip. The backs of the large, rounded ears are black with a white spot. Their eyes are enormous and dark brown.

As a mainly tree dwelling animal, Margays are restricted to forest habitat, and have been found in humid tropical evergreen and deciduous forests and swampy savannas. Mexico is recorded as the northernmost limit of their distribution, ranging down through Central and South America to northern Argentina. Much of their range is shared with the Ocelot, which prey on larger and more ground dwelling species. Margays have been known to live for over ten years in captivity.

It has been said that Margays are the “wizards of the tree tops”, and are perfectly adapted to their woodland habitat. For example their broad, soft feet and mobile toes allow them to hang from tree limbs by one hind foot, and flexible ankles can rotate the foot 180 degrees outward. They are exceedingly quick, and even during a fall they have been seen to grab hold of a branch with one hind paw and climb up again. Their exceptionally long, heavy tail aids in balancing while moving from tree to tree. In some areas, Margays hunt, sleep, and even have their young in trees. When they do descend the trees, they walk slowly head first down the trunk, unlike most cats that descend hind feet first. Captive cats have been seen jumping nearly six metres straight in the air and nine metres horizontally. [Source - wildcatconservation.org]

The Margay hunts almost exclusively by night (using their huge eyes) and their prey includes small rodents, birds, small monkeys, tree frogs and insects which inhabit the forest canopy. It also eats fruit where live prey is scarce.

Little is known of the Margays status and population density across its range. Until trade restrictions in the late 1980's, the Margay was one of the four most heavily exploited cats for the fur trade. Illegal hunting for domestic markets or the underground fur trade continues to be a problem in some areas. However, (once again) deforestation is now the primary threat to their reduced populations. In the north of its range it is now almost extinct and it is listed in CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix 1 as an endangered species.

Margay Cat

Portrait of a Margay
Photograph: Marcio Motta - Under Creative Commons License

Like many other cats Margays have shown an amazing hunting strategy of mimicking the sound of the prey animals call. Amazon jungle inhabitants (woodsmen and Mestizo Indians) were interviewed in different regions of central Amazonia to learn about the natural history of the Margay (and other) cat species, including their prey capture techniques. In the case described below there is a fascinating account of a Margay Cat stalking a group of Wild Pied Tamarin.

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