Rio Meow: 9 Amazing Wild Cats Of South America

From the majestic jungle Jaguar down to the cute-as-a-button Kodkod, some of the world’s most beautiful, rare and threatened wild cats call South America home.


(image via: Awesome-Desktop/S.K.)

The Jaguar (Panthera Onca) is the third-largest of the four big cats in the genus Panthera, and the only living member native to the western hemisphere. Growing up to 160 kg (350 lb), Jaguars are distinguished by rosette-emblazoned fur, comparatively short tails and an exceptionally powerful bite that enables them to successfully prey on armored reptiles such as caimans and turtles.

(images via: Fanpop and WWF/Go Wild)

Jaguars are stated to be Near Threatened by the IUCN and while their current range is roughly half of what it once was, these often solitary big cats can still be found from southern Arizona in the United States down to Paraguay and northern Argentina. Generally speaking, Jaguars grow to larger sizes the more south they are found.


(image via: ScienceBlogs/National Geographic)

The strikingly-patterned Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) was once extensively hunted for its fur. When the species appeared to be in decline as a result, it was classified a Vulnerable endangered species from 1972 until 1996. The accompanying ban on the trade of Ocelot fur has helped these elusive, mainly nocturnal cats greatly and the 2008 IUCN Red List now rates them as a species of Least Concern.

(images via: National Geographic and Zooborns)

Ocelots typically weigh from 8 to 18 kilograms (18 to 40 lb) though they can occasionally grow larger. These fiercely territorial cats have been classified by zoologists into 10 separate subspecies and the species as a whole ranges from southern Texas and Arizona down through Mexico and the Amazon rainforest into the temperate forests of northern Argentina.


(image via: DeviantArt/~szkrabina)

The Jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi) or Eyra Cat is not, as some might assume, a small Jaguar… a visual comparison makes that clear right away. Jaguarundis have shorter legs, smaller and rounder ears, and lack the striped and spotted coats characteristic of most wild cats. The Jaguarundi differs from other South American wild cats genetically as well, having 38 chromosomes as opposed to the expected 36.

(images via: Minube and Pictures of Cats/Fred Hood)

Considered to be a Least Threatened species, the Jaguarundi weighs approximately 3.5 to 9.1 kg (7.7 to 20 lb) and is mainly diurnal (day-active). Though its fur is for the most part un-patterned, Jaguarundis display one of two distinct coat colors: a dark charcoal to brownish-gray or a more reddish hue. They can be found in coastal regions of Mexico down through Central America and in most of lowland South America as far south as the Plate River near Buenos Aires.