Spotlight on the Wild Cats of Guyana

Spotlight on the Wild Cats of Guyana

With 80 percent of the country swathed in unspoiled, impenetrable forests, Guyana is the perfect habitat for a variety of wildlife. In this article, we look at six of Guyana’s most famous wild cat species.

1. Jaguar – Panthera onca

Known locally as the pouss or turtle tiger, the jaguar is South America’s largest big cat species. Jaguars can vary in color, but are predominantly tawny yellow, with distinctive black rosettes. They have a white throat and underbelly, and lighter flanks and legs. Some jaguars specimens are much darker, varying from reddish brown to black.


Even black jaguars have rosettes, though these may not always be visible, except from certain angles. Rosettes usually consist of one or more dots, helping the jaguar to blend in with its natural forest habitat.

A jaguar’s legs are short, but built perfectly for swimming, climbing, and crawling after prey. They can weigh up to 212 pounds and measure up to 6 feet long. Female jaguars are usually around 15 percent smaller than males. Jaguars have extremely powerful jaws and the third strongest bite force of any big cat species.

2. Puma – Puma concolor

Also known as the panther, mountain lion, deer tiger, or cougar, pumas are large, enigmatic cats. They have a round head, erect ears as well as powerful necks, forequarters, and jaws to help them grasp and hold onto prey.


A puma’s coat coloration may vary from tawny gold, to brownish yellow, to greyish red. Individuals that inhabit cooler climbs tend to exhibit a somewhat greyer coat coloring. Pumas that inhabit warmer environments tend to have a redder coat color.

In Guyana, many pumas inhabit rocky crags and pasture lands. However, they can be highly adaptive, and are sometimes found in grasslands, forests, tropical jungles, and even arid desert regions.

3. Ocelot – Leopardus pardalis

Commonly known as the painted leopard, dwarf leopard, tigrillo, or hagtiger, the ocelot is much smaller and less stocky than a jaguar. It is approximately double the size of the average house cat.


Ocelots have smaller spots that tend to form rows. They are related to the oncilla and margay cats. In fact, the three species can sometimes be difficult to distinguish from each other.

Ocelots inhabit thorn forest, tropical forest, savanna, and mangrove swamps. They prefer areas with dense vegetation cover, although they do venture out after dark to more open areas to stalk prey.

4. Jaguarundi – Puma yagouaroundi

Referred to locally as the otter cat or eyra, jaguarundi have an elongated body, short legs, and a long tail. The ears are rounded and small. The cat’s coat is uniform in color, without any spots, featuring at most a few markings on the underside and the face. Coloring can vary significantly, from blackish, to brownish grey, to foxy red. A multitude of different coat colorings can occur in members of the same litter of cubs.


Jaguarundi tend to be more active during the day, rather than at dusk or at night. They are excellent climbers, though they prefer to hunt on the ground. They will eat virtually any small animal they can catch, particularly ground-feeding birds, small reptiles, and rodents. However, they have been observed killing larger prey, such as opossums and marmosets.

5. Margay – Lepardus wiedii

Sometimes called the tree ocelot, little ocelot, climbing ocelot, or tigrillo, the margay is a small cat species that is indigenous to Central and South American regions. This solitary, nocturnal creature generally inhabits deciduous and evergreen forests. The species was added to the IUCN’s Red List of Near Threatened Species in 2008.

Image courtesy Proyecto Asis | Flickr

Similar in appearance to the ocelot, the head of the margay is slightly shorter, the eyes slightly larger, and the legs and tail a little longer. Margays can weigh up to almost 9 pounds, and have a body length up to 31 inches. Unlike most feline species, female margays only have two teats.

The margay’s coat is brown, with longitudinal streaks and rows of black or dark brown rosettes. The wild cat’s underside is pale, ranging from beige to white, and its tail features numerous dark bands, with a black tip.

6. Oncilla – Lepardus tigrinus

Also known as the tiger cat, tigrillo, or little spotted cat, oncillas are among South America’s smallest wild cat species.  Oncilla have a similar appearance to a margay or ocelot, but a have a slenderer, smaller build with a narrower muzzle.

Image courtesy Tambako The Jaguar | Flickr

Oncillas have thick, light brown fur, with numerous rosettes across the back and the flanks. Their eyes range from light to dark brown. Their ears are black, with bright white spots on the back. They generally grow up to 23 inches in body length, and weigh up to 6.6 pounds. The species is mainly found in Guyana.

As Guyana’s oldest bank, GBTI supports wildlife conservation and ecological projects throughout the country and internationally. This includes World Wildlife Day, a UN-backed event that celebrates animals and nature, such as Guyana’s impressive array of wild cats.