Monkey Forest Tales: Some notes about wild cats in the area

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Cougar footprint found in a tertiary road in a cattle ranching farm in the study region.

Today’s post is about another group of native fauna inhabiting the study region. We are going to talk about the wild cats that persist in the study region. As I mentioned previously, the study region is highly transformed landscapes with forest fragments of different sizes (range 0.5 to > 1000 ha) in a matrix of palm oil plantations, perennial crops, cattle ranches and natural savannas covering several thousand hectares.

Because of the constant human activity in the area, you could think wild cats, especially the big ones, jaguars and cougars, won’t be able to live in the area. However, that is not true. Although not very common and mostly observed in the farthest part of the study region, towards the “serranía”, as it is locally known, it is possible to find some wild cats.

Mostly footprints, as well as some feces and tracks, are possible to be found for the bigger cats, like jaguars and cougars. Small cats like margay, ocelot, oncilla, and jaguarundi are sometimes found on pastures, natural savannas and even in small forest fragments. Observations are rare over the years but from time to time we found footprints and tracks that let us know they still present in the region despite the human activities.

From time to time, there are also reports from some cattle ranchers about cougars or jaguars attacking livestock, and some of these reports ended in the killing of a jaguar or cougar in the region. Fortunately, those cases are still rare.

Tracks and footprints from all species had been observed on tertiary roads, as well as pastures, natural savannas and inside of forest fragments of different sizes over the last 15 years. No clear pattern of more observation in some years than others is evident from our surveys.

The region still maintains a prey population that seems to be stable in general, with some local extinction in the more human-populated areas, close to towns and main roads. This is probably the reason that wild cats are still present in the region.

Some reports of chickens and other small domestic animals killed in farms are more often attributed to more conspicuous carnivorous and opossums such as tayras, short-eared dogs and the common opossum, which are more visible and often seen by local people.

The persistence of gallery forest fragments in the area around small streams is probably one of the reasons we still have some wild cats moving in the region without many observations except by some sporadic tracks and footprints.


Feces of a wild cat found in a forest fragment at the study region.

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