Leopardus tigrinus


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Leopardus tigrinus
Species Authority: (Schreber, 1775)
Infra-specific Taxa Assessed:
Common Name(s):
English Oncilla, Little Spotted Cat, Tiger Cat, Little Tiger Cat
French Oncille, Chat-tacheté, Chat-tigre
Spanish Caucel, Gato Atigrado, Gato Tigre, Tigrillo, Tirica
Taxonomic Notes: Genetic analyses found a level of divergence between L. tigrinus from Costa Rica and from central and southern Brazil comparable to that between species in the Leopardus group, suggesting that the two populations have been isolated, perhaps by the Amazon River, for approximately 3.7 million years. Both groups had relatively low levels of genetic diversity (Johnson et al. 1999). More analysis of geographic partitioning, with additional samples from other parts of the range, is needed to confirm whether this taxon should be split into two species.

There is also evidence of hybridization between L. tigrinus and L. colocolo (Johnson et al. 1999, Eizirik et al. 2007) and L. geoffroyi (Eizirik et al. 2007) in areas where their range overlaps.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A3c ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): de Oliveira, T., Eizirik, E., Schipper, J., Valderrama, C., Leite-Pitman, R. & Payan, E.
Reviewer(s): Nowell, K., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Breitenmoser, U. (Cat Red List Authority) & Schipper, J. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)
While L. tigrinus has a broad range (extent of occurrence), including the Amazon basin, totaling over 11 million km² (J. Schipper pers. comm. 2008), its distribution is highly localized (i.e., has a small area of occupancy (AOO)). The Amazon is a stronghold for other Neotropical forest-dwelling cats, but there the Little Spotted Cat has been found to occur at very low densities, approximately 0.01 individuals per 100 km² (Oliveira et al. in submission). Since higher densities are achieved where ocelots are scarce (Oliveira et al. in press), most of the population probably occurs outside protected areas, and outside the Amazon basin lowland rainforest, in habitats which are undergoing high rates of loss - e.g., the Brazilian cerrado (Klink and Machado 2005). A future decline of 30% over the next 18 years (= three generations) is projected due to declining AOO and habitat quality (IUCN Cats Red List Workshop 2007).
2002 Near Threatened

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: The oncilla is distributed from Costa Rica (north) to southern Brazil and NE Argentina (30 degrees south) (Oliveira et al. 2008). There are records from the Amazon basin, but the distribution could be discontinuous and patchy, and the species extremely rare (Oliveira 2004). The species is absent from the Colombian Llanos and the Paraguayan Chaco (Payan et al. 2007). It has been recorded from Costa Rica and northern Panama, but not from the remainder of the Darien Peninsula connecting Central America to South America. Although the species has been collected as high as 4,800 m (Cuervo et al. 1986), this is likely an outlier, as there are very few records at or slightly above 3,000 m (T. Oliveira, per. comm.).
Argentina; Bolivia, Plurinational States of; Brazil; Colombia; Costa Rica; Ecuador; French Guiana; Guyana; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Suriname; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Estimated population densities vary greatly. In the Amazon density is very low, expected at approximately 0.01/100 km². Camera-trap surveys in other portions of its range indicates that the species generally occurs in densities between 1-5/100 km² (Oliveira et al. in submission). In Central America the species rarely shows up in camera traps even where they are known to occur, suggesting that they either avoid traps or are naturally rare and elusive in that area (Schipper pers. comm.). A similar trend is also found in several areas in Brazil, where authors found it in most areas as in intrinsically low numbers, not camera-trap shyness (Oliveira pers. comm.) The oncilla is negatively impacted by ocelot numbers and does not seem to attain effective population size for long term persistence in any Conservation Unit possibly due to the “ocelot effect” (Oliveira et al. in press). Thus, it is found mostly outside protected areas in the Cerrado and Atlantic Forest biomes, which are both under severe threats, and where ocelots are absent or have declined (Oliveira et al. in submission). It seems that where ocelots are rare or absent the average population density ranges from 5-20 indiv/100 km² but expected to be much lower than 5/100 km² where ocelots are present (high density estimates, ca. 20/100 km², are obtained only in very few and isolated areas) (Oliveira et al. in submission). This species is vulnerable in Argentina (Diaz and Ojeda 2000), Brazil (Machado et al. 2005) and in Colombia (MAVDT, 2005; Rodriguez-Mahecha et al., 2006).
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: This species is found in a broad range of habitats, but is especially associated with denser cover (Oliveira pers. comm.). In Costa Rica the species is almost entirely confined to montane forests along the flanks of Volcanos and other high mountains from 1,000 m up to the treeline (paramo) and occupy cloud forest and high elevation elfin forests (J. Schipper pers. comm.). Their distribution pattern in Costa Rica and Panama closely resembles that of the oak (Quercus sp.) dominated forests (J. Schipper pers. comm.). While in Central America and parts of northern South America it may be most common in montane cloud forest, it is mostly found in lowland areas in Brazil, being reported from rainforests to dry deciduous forest, savannas, semi-arid thorny scrub, and degraded secondary vegetation in close proximity to human settlement (Oliveira et al. 2008). The use of lowland Amazonian forests is practically unknown and requires attention.

The little spotted cat is a small-sized (2.4 kg) solitary felid, with an average litter size of 1.12 kittens (1–4) (Oliveira and Cassaro 2005). Diel activity pattern is mostly nocturno-crepuscular, but with considerable amount of daytime activity. However, it could also be highly diurnal in some areas of Brazil. Prey base consists mostly of small mammals, birds and lizards, with average prey size at 1 kg). Home range data from the few studies that have been carried out suggests that they are small - 0.9-2.8 km² for females and 4.8-17 km² for males (although studies from Brazil’s Emas National Park suggests ranges can be larger). However, these ranges are larger than would be expected from body size (Oliveira et al. in press). Densities vary 1-5/100 km², and in the Amazon may be as low as 0.01/100 km² (Oliveira et al. in submission). Little spotted cat occurs at low population densities throughout most of its range, especially on what would be expected by a felid of its size. Its numbers/densities are negatively impacted by the larger ocelot, its potential intra-guild predator/competitor (Oliveira et al. 2008, in press, in submission).
Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The oncilla was heavily exploited for the fur trade decades ago, following the decline of the ocelot trade. Although international trade ceased, there is still some localized illegal hunting, usually for the domestic market. Current threats to this species include habitat loss, fragmentation, roads, illegal trade (pets and pelts), retaliatory killing due to depredation of poultry. Populations are severely fragmented and are being reduced severely by habitat conversion to plantations and pasture. Change in native species dynamics (predator/competitor) could represent another previously undetected potential threat (IUCN Cats Red List workshop, 2007). There is hybridization with Geoffroy's cat in the southernmost part of its range and with the pampas cat in central Brazil; this may be a natural or anthropogenic process and the extent of this as a threat is unknown (Eizirk et al. 2007).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Included on CITES Appendix I. Hunting of the species is prohibited in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, French Guiana, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela (Nowell and Jackson 1996). In the Amazon, field records suggest that populations are extremely low - therefore these areas should not be perceived to be safeguards for the species as it is for other felids (Oliveira 2004). Populations in protected areas are expected to be very low, likely because of the impact of higher ocelot (L. pardalus) densities (Oliveira pers. comm.). Further studies are required on the species ecology, demographics, natural history, and threats. This species needs to be evaluated at the subspecies level due to genetic diversity within the species. A reassessment on the taxonomy of this species is an urgent research priority as the northern portion of the population might be a distinct species (IUCN Cats Red List workshop, 2007).

Bibliography [top]

Cuervo, A., Hernadez, J. and Cadena, C. 1986. Lista atualizada de los mamíferos de Colômbia: anotaciones sobre su distribucion. Caldasia 15: 471-501.

de Oliveira, T.G. 1994. Neotropical cats: ecology and conservation. EDUFMA, São Luís, MA, Brazil.

de Oliveira, T. G. 2004. The oncilla in Amazonia: unraveling a myth. Cat News 41: 29-32.

de Oliveira, T.G., Mazim F.D., Kasper, C.B., Tortato, M.A., Soares, J.B.G. and Marques, R.V. Submitted. Small Neotropical felids density in Brazil: a preliminary demographic assessment of the little known species. Biological Conservation.

de Oliveira, T.G., Tortato, M.A., Silveira, L., Kasper, C.B., Mazim, F.D., Lucherini, M. Jácomo, A.T., Soares, J.B.G., Marques, R.V. and Sunquist, M. 2010. Ocelot ecology and its effect in the small-felid guild in the lowland Neotropics. In: D.W. Macdonald and A. Loveridge (eds), Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, pp. 563-584. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Díaz, G. B and Ojeda, R. A. (eds). 2000. Libro rojo: mamíferos amenazados de la Argentina. pp. 106 pp.. Soc. Argentina para el Estudio de los Mamíferos, Buenos Aires.

Eizirik, E., Trigo, T.C. and Haag, T. 2007. Conservation genetics and molecular ecology of Neotropical felids. In: J. Hughes and R. Mercer (eds), Felid Biology and Conservation Conference 17-19 September: Abstracts, pp. 40-41. WildCRU, Oxford, UK.

IUCN. 2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Available at: (Accessed: 5 October 2008).

Johnson, W.E., Slattery, J.P., Eizirik, E., Kim, J.H., Raymond, M.M., Bonacic, C., Cambre, R., Crawshaw, P., Nunes, A., Seuanez, H.N., Moreira, M.A.M., Seymour, K.L., Simon, F., Swanson, W. and O'Brien, S.J. 1999. Disparate phylogeographic patterns of molecular genetic variation in four closely related South American small cat species. Molecular Ecology 8: S79-S94.

Klink, C.A. and Machado, R.B. 2005. Conservation of the Brazilian Cerrado. Conservation Biology 19(3): 707-713.

Machado, A.B.M., Drummond, G.M. and Martins, C.S. 2005. Lista da Fauna Brasileira Ameaçada de Extinção: Incluindo as Espécies Quase Ameaçadas e Deficientes em Dados. Fundação Biodiversitas, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Ministerio de Ambiente, Vivienda y Desarrollo Territorial. 2005. Resolución 0572 del 4 de Mayo de 2005. Ministerio de Ambiente, Vivienda y Desarrollo Territorial - Republica de Colombia.

Nowell, K. and Jackson, P. 1996. Wild Cats. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Oliveira, T. G. de, Kasper, C. B., Tortato, M. A., Marques, R. V., Mazim, F. D. and Soares, J. B. G. 2008. Aspectos ecológicos de Leopardus tigrinus e outros felinos de pequeno-médio porte no Brasil. In: T. G. de Oliveira (ed.), Plano de ação para conservação de Leopardus tigrinus no Brasil, Instituto Pró-Carnívoros/Fundo Nacional do Meio Ambiente, Atibaia, SP, Brazil.

Payan, E., Quiceno, M. P. and Franco, A. M. 2007. Los felinos como especies focales y de alto valor cultural. Serie Especies Colombianas 7. Instituto Alexander von Humboldt, Bogota, Colombia.

Rodriguez-Mahecha, J. V., Alberico, M., Trujillo, F. and Jorgenson, J. 2006. Libro Rojo de los Mamíferos de Colombia. Serie Libros Rojos de Especies Amenazadas de Colombia. Conservación Internacional Colombia & Ministerio de Ambiente, vivienda y Desarrollo Territorial, Bogota, Colombia.

Citation: de Oliveira, T., Eizirik, E., Schipper, J., Valderrama, C., Leite-Pitman, R. & Payan, E. 2008. Leopardus tigrinus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <>. Downloaded on 05 July 2015.
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