Northern Tiger Cat (Leopardus tigrinus) - Leopardus Lineage
Oncille (Leopardus tigrinus) au Parc des Félins by Groumfy69 (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

The little known Northern Tiger Cat (Leopardus tigrinus) is one of the small spotted cat species of South America, also now known as Northern Oncilla or Northern Tigrina. Previously called Oncilla, this species was split in 2013 into the Northern Tiger Cat and Southern Tiger Cat (Leopardus guttulus) according to molecular evidence. Another historical common name is Tigrillo which actually means 'small jaguar' and is not a reference to Asiatic tigers.

These small, nocturnal cats appear to be naturally rare, are difficult to study and easily confused with the other small spotted cat species of South America. Habitat loss and fragmentation are the primary threats to their survival.


  • The images on this page may either be the Northern Tiger Cat / N. Oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus) or the Southern Tiger Cat / S. Oncilla (Leopardus guttulus).
  • Species taxonomy updates since 2017:

2017 - Eastern Oncilla / Tigrina (Leopardus emiliae) split from the Northern Tiger Cat (Leopardus tigrinus).

Reference: Nascimento, Fabio & Feijó, Anderson. (2017). Taxonomic revision of The tigrina Leopardus tigrinus (Schreber, 1775) species group (Carnivora, Felidae). Papeis Avulsos de Zoologia. 57. 10.11606/0031-1049.2017.57.19.

Note: Apr 2024 - not included in WildCatFamily classification charts.

2024 - New species Clouded Tiger-cat (Leopardus pardinoides) previously a subspecies of Northern Tiger Cat (Leopardus tigrinus); name changes to Northern and Southern Tiger Cats; Eastern Oncilla (Leopardus emiliae) not valid.

Reference: de Oliveira, T.G., Fox-Rosales, L.A., Ramírez-Fernández, J.D. et al. Ecological modeling, biogeography, and phenotypic analyses setting the tiger cats’ hyperdimensional niches reveal a new species. Sci Rep 14, 2395 (2024).

Note: Apr 2024 - not yet on MDD v 1.12, WildCatFamily will be updated once accepted on MDD.

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 ~

Northern Tiger Cat (Leopardus tigrinus) Classification

The Northern Tiger Cat (or Northern Oncilla, Northern Tigrina) belongs to the genus Leopardus and the full taxonomy, scientific classification or higher classification of this 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 / N. Oncilla / N. 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).

Classification Chart

This Northern Tiger Cat classification chart shows where this cat fits into the Felidae family and in particular the Leopardus genus.

Oncilla / Tigrina / Northern Tiger Cat Classification Chart
Click chart to download.
Permission to use for personal or educational use.

Note: This chart is at the 2017 Felidae taxonomy and excludes later changes to the Tiger Cat complexes.

Northern Tiger Cat (Leopardus tigrinus) Subspecies

Four subspecies of the Northern Tiger Cat / Oncilla 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:

  • Amazon Tiger Cat or Tigrina / Oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus tigrinus)  - northern South America south to Bolivia and north Argentina
  • Central American Tiger Cat or Tigrina / Oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus oncilla) - Costa Rica and Panama

Northern Tiger Cat Conservation

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

Tiger Cats Conservation Initiative - Tiger Cats Working Group

 Wild Cats Americas (WCA) - Small Wild Cats of the Americas

 Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation (SWCCF)  - Global

Small wild cat working groups of the Neotropics: results of the first group leaders meeting.

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

Northern Tiger Cat Facts and Information

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

If you find this website useful, please consider a small contribution of $5 so I can continue to keep it updated. Thank you, Mandy 🙂

Northern Tiger Cat Research

Here are some papers published on Northern Tiger Cats (N. Oncillas / N. Tigrinas). Click on the title bar to view the abstract and the link to the article.

View more articles on Leopardus tigrinus in the IUCN Cat Specialist Group database. (Scroll down once the library page is loaded to see the list.)

Consider joining the Friends of the Cat Specialist Group to access the full articles and receive their journal Cat News covering the latest wild cat research.


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

Map of South America with Countries and Capitals
Map of South America by Nations Online Project

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)
Out of Print Try AbeBooks ~ Book Review