Costa Rica is famous for its biodiversity but not everyone is aware of the 6 different species of felines that inhabit our country.  These fascinating animals are not only beautiful but also an important part of the ecosystems they are part of.  Discover everything you need to know about the Costa Rica wildcats below.

Jaguar Costa Rica Wildcats



Scientifically, the cats belong to the biological family named Felidae.  All types of cats belong to the Felidae order, including the wildcats and the little ones that play around our homes.

Cats of the World Costa Rica Wilcats

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The 36 species that make up this biological family are carnivores. The vast majority of these fascinating animals are solitary beings and have many skills such as climbing and swimming. These abilities make them one of the best hunters that exist on our planet.

The Felidae family is composed of two subfamilies:

  • The Pantherinae or roaring cats, include 3 genus like the African Lions and Leopards
  • The Felinae or small cats, comprise 11 genus like the cheetahs, lynxes, and some Costa Rican wildcats such as the puma and jaguarundi


The first cat-like mammals appear on Earth 60 million years ago and the first cat as we know them today 25 million years ago.  All cats descend from one ancestor and originated in Asia. There was once a third subfamily, extinct today, called Machairodontinae commonly known as “saber-toothed cats.

Felines can be found almost everywhere in the world with the exception of the Antarctic continent, Arctic region, Australia, New Zealand, Madagascar, Japan, and most oceanic islands.

About half of feline species are endangered in the world. Most of these large predators are the head of their natural habitats, they are above the trophic chain, therefore they are an indicator of the health of the biological systems. Even scientists believe that if the felines of the world become extinct, the human species is in serious danger. The main reasons threatening these impressive animals are the disappearance of their habitats and the illegal market of their parts.


Costa Rica wildcats

Even though Costa Rica is well-known for cute animals such as the Sloth or the playful monkeys, the Costa Rica wildcats are one of the great treasures of the country.

Costa Rica is home to 6 different species that belong to the Felinae subfamily, in comparison with 5 inhabiting the United States and 3 in Canada.

The Costa Rica wild cats species are:


1-The Jaguar

The Panthera onca is the largest of the Costa Rica wildcats. This beautiful feline is characterized by its spotted fur and by not fearing the smell of humans, it is even said that it seeks to follow its tracks.

2-The Cougar (Puma concolor costaricensis).

The Puma, as it is also known, is the second largest species of Costa Rica wildcats and it is a smaller variation of the American Cougar.  It is a solitary, silent and territorial predator.  Its coat is brown without spots and can reach up to 1.20 meters and weigh up to 145 pounds.

3-The Ocelot

The Leopardus pardalis is the third largest feline in the country.  In Costa Rica is also known as Manigordo or “fat hand” referring to its large paws. Its coat also has spots, being unique the pattern of each individual.

4-The Margay

Similar in appearance to the Ocelot, the Leopardus wiedii is a skillful climber, spending most of its life up in the treetops. This small Costa Rican wildcat is one of the two or three species able to climb first-head down trees and turn its ankles up to 180 degrees.

5-The Jaguarundi

The elongated Herpailurus yagouaroundi has a unique appearance.  This territorial feline is the only daytime Costa Rica wildcat. The coat of the Jaguarundi can be either blackish or red, following the phenomenon called Polymorphism, which is the occurrence of two or more clearly different morphs in the population of a species.

6-The Northern tiger cat

The also called Oncilla is the smallest of the Costa Rica wildcats. Resembling the Margay and Ocelot, the Leopardus tigrinus grow up to 42 centimeters.  Due to its size, the footprints of this feline are generally mistaken by domestic cats, so they stay usually anonymous near human habitats.



Where to see Costa Rica wildcats

Costa Rica wildcats are generally difficult to see due to their nocturnal life. These magnificent animals are spread-out all-over Costa Rica and its populations are focused in the diverse national parks of the country.

In our beautiful province of Guanacaste, the Palo Verde National Park is home to the greatest population of Jaguarundis in the country.  Also, in the Curu Wildlife Reserve,  Ocelots, Pumas and Margays inhabit its forests. And in the Guanacaste Conservation Area (Area de Conservación Guanacaste ACG), sightings of Ocelots, Jaguarundis, Cougars and Jaguars have been reported.

But if you want to play it safe, you can visit Las Pumas Rescue Center, close to Liberia in Guanacaste.  The goal of this great institution is to help animals that where harm somehow product of the human interaction and help them to survive in their natural habitat once rehabilitated. At this center, you could have the opportunity to see different species of Costa Rica wildcats.



Contact us to book your tour and have the chance to spot one of these wonderful creatures!