Five of Central America’s six species of big cat are found in Panama. The country is home to jaguar, puma, ocelot, jaguarundi, and margay
The jaguar (Panthera onca) is the largest cat in the Americas,
a member of the Felidae family and one of four "big cats" in the panthera
genus. The largest jaguars have been found in the Brazilian
Pantanal region, where the average weight of males is around 100kg. The jaguar’s
coat color ranges from pale yellow to reddish brown. It has spots on the neck,
body and limbs. Black jaguars are not uncommon. The jaguar is built for power,
not speed, but also demonstrates stealth and grace in movement.
Jaguars hunt around 85 different species including: deer, tapirs, peccaries, and even caiman. They will catch anything from frogs, mice, birds, fish, to domestic livestock. The jaguar uses a different killing method from most cats to kill its prey, they deliver a fatal bite to the skull, piercing the brain. Jaguars are a stalk and ambush predator, they do not run over long distances but ambush unsuspecting prey. La Amistad International Park has a large number of jaguars, as does Darien, but they are difficult to find.
The puma (Puma concolor since 1993, previously Felis concolor)
which, though a big cat, cannot roar, but instead purrs. It is more closely
related to the common house cat than to other big cats. The word puma comes
from the Quechua language. DNA analysis has established that the puma is related
to the jaguarundi, but not to true cheetahs.
Pumas are tawny-colored with black-tipped ears and tail. The puma can run as fast as 70 km/h , jump 6 m from a standing position. Their bite strength is more powerful than that of any domestic dog. Puma claws are retractable and they have four toes. Their life span is about 10 years in the wild and 25 years or more in captivity. Pumas that live closest to the equator are the smallest, and increase in size in populations closer to the poles.
Pumas hunt large mammals, such as deer, but will eat small animals or even mice, if the need arises. They hunt alone and ambush their prey, usually from behind. They usually kill with a bite at the base of the skull to break the neck of their target.
The ocelot (Leopardus pardalis, previously Felis pardalis, from Latin pardalis,
"leopard-like") is a wild cat up to 100 cm in length, plus 45 cm tail
length, and weighs 10-15 kg. While similar in appearance to the margay, who
inhabit the same region, the ocelot is larger.
The ocelot is mostly nocturnal and very territorial. During the day they rest in trees. Prey includes almost any small animal: monkeys, snakes, rodents, fish, amphibians and birds are common prey.
The ocelot's fur resembles that of a jaguar; it was once regarded as particularly valuable for fur coats. Several hundreds of thousands of ocelots were killed for their fur
The Jaguarundi (Herpailurus yaguarondi or Puma yaguarondi,
Felis yaguarondi according to older sources) is a medium-sized wild cat: length
65 cm with 45 cm of tail. It has short legs and short and rounded ears. The
fur is a chestnut brown, but can range from grey to dark brown. Their coats
have no markings except for spots at birth. DNA shows these cats are closely
related to puma.
Habitat is lowland brush close to a running water source where they have been known to fish. They occasionally live in dense tropical areas as well. These cats can climb trees, but prefer to hunt on the ground. They prey upon fish, small mammals, reptiles and birds. Jaguarundi are not particularly sought after for their fur, but they are suffering decline and extinction due to loss of habitat.
The Margay (Leopardus wiedii, or Felis wiedii) is a spotted
cat which is a solitary nocturnal animal that prefers remote sections of the
rainforest. It was once believed to be vulnerable to extinction, the IUCN now
lists it as "Least Concern".
The Margay is very similar to the Ocelot, although the head is a bit shorter, the tail is longer, and the spotted pattern on the tail is different. The Margay is a much better climber than the Ocelot, and it is sometimes called the Tree Ocelot because of this. Whereas the Ocelot mainly pursues prey on the ground, the Margay may spend its whole life in the trees, chasing birds and monkeys through the treetops. It is one of only two cat species with the ankle flexibility necessary to climb head first down trees.