Northern Tiger Cat (Leopardus tigrinus) - Leopardus Lineage
Oncille (Leopardus tigrinus) au Parc des Félins by Groumfy69 (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons
Note: The images on this page may either be the Northern Tiger Cat / Northern Oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus) or the Southern Tiger Cat / Southern Oncilla (Leopardus guttulus) under the revised taxonomy.

The little known Oncilla or Northern Tiger Cat (Leopardus tigrinus) is one of the small spotted cat species of South America, also known as Tigrina. In 2013 the Oncillas were split into a northern and southern species according to molecular evidence and are sometimes called Northern Tigrina and Southern Tigrina (Leopardus guttulus). These small, nocturnal cats appear to be naturally rare so are difficult to study and are easily confused with the other small spotted cat species of South America. Habitat loss and fragmentation are the primary threats to their survival.

Leopardus Lineage

1. Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis)

2. Geoffroy’s Cat (Leopardus geoffroyi)

3. Andean Cat (Leopardus jacobita)

4. Margay (Leopardus wiedii)

5. Pampas Cat (Leopardus colocola)

6. Northern Tiger Cat (Leopardus tigrinus)

7. Southern Tiger Cat (Leopardus guttulus)

8. Guiña or Kodkod (Leopardus guigna)

Key Facts about Northern Tiger Cats

~ Small spotted cat of northern South America ~

~  Historically hunted for the fur trade ~

~ Few studies & little known ~

Oncilla - Northern Tiger Cat (Leopardus tigrinus) Classification

The Oncilla or Northern Tiger Cat belongs to the genus Leopardus and the full taxonomy, scientific classification or higher classification of the Northern Tiger Cat species is:

Kingdom: Animalia (animals)

Phylum: Chordata (vertebrates)

Class: Mammalia (mammals)

Order: Carnivora (carnivores)

Suborder: Feliformia (cat-like)

Family: Felidae (cats)

Subfamily: Felinae (small cats)

Genus: Leopardus

Species: Leopardus tigrinus (Northern Tiger Cat)


L.t. tigrinus

L.t. oncilla


The scientific name for the Northern Tiger Cat / Oncilla / Tigrina is Leopardus tigrinus which is also known as the binomial name, species name, latin name, biological name or zoological name. Some use the term 'botanical name' however that term is only applicable to the plant kingdom (botany) and not the animal kingdom (zoology).

Oncilla sitting in a tree by Luiz Claudio Marigo (Leopardus tigrinus)

Oncilla close-up by Gerard Lacz (Leopardus tigrinus)

Oncilla - Northern Tiger Cat (Leopardus tigrinus) Subspecies

Four subspecies of Oncillas have been described in the past:

  • Leopardus tigrinus tigrinus
  • Leopardus tigrinus guttulus
  • Leopardus tigrinus pardinoides
  • Leopardus tigrinus oncilla

However the last Felidae taxonomy revision in 2017 based on genetic studies, proposed two subspecies pending further research:

  • Leopardus tigrinus tigrinus - northern South America south to Bolivia and north Argentina
  • Leopardus tigrinus oncilla - Costa Rica and Panama

Oncilla - Northern Tiger Cat Conservation & Research

The global conservation status for the Oncilla or Northern Tiger Cat is Vulnerable (VU) and populations are declining.
The following organizations are dedicated to research and conservation of the smaller cats of Latin America:

Institute Pro-Carnivores - Wild Cats of Brazil

Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation - Global

Please support these organizations with their important work if you can. No matter the size of your contribution, every bit helps!

Oncilla kitten by Nick Gordon (Leopardus tigrinus)

Oncilla resting in a tree by Luiz Claudio Margio (Leopardus tigrinus)

Oncilla - Northern Tiger Cat Facts and Information

These organizations have well researched and authoritative information on Oncillas - Northern Tiger Cats:

Molecular population genetics, evolutionary biology and biological conservation of neotropical carnivores.

Field Guide to the Wild Cats of South America (Spanish)

Neotropical Cats by TG de Oliveira (1994)
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