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

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 (Leopardus tigrinus) is as follows:

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)

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

Oncilla - Northern Tiger Cat(Leopardus tigrinus) Subspecies

Lower classification

Oncilla close-up by Gerard Lacz (Leopardus tigrinus)

Four subspecies of Oncillas have been described in the past:

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

However the current Felidae taxonomy revision based on recent genetic studies proposes 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:

Please support these organizations with their important work. No matter how small or large your donation, 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

The following websites have well researched and authoritative information on Oncillas - Northern Tiger Cats:

Books on Neotropical Cats

Currently there is no publication in print dedicated to just the cats of Central and South America.

A book entitled Neotropical Cats by TG de Oliviera was published in 1994 however is no longer in print, and may be available in libraries or in used book stores.

The latest information on these cats can be found in books about all wild cats such as those below.

Neotropical Cats by TG de Oliveira 1994
Neotropical Cats by TG de Oliveira (1994) - Out of Print
Try AbeBooks ~ Book Review 1996

Wild Cats of the World - Luke Hunter 2015

Wild Cats of the World

by Luke Hunter 2015

(general and academic interest)

Amazon US (incl Kindle)

AbeBooks global

The Wild Cat Book - Sunquist 2014

The Wild Cat Book

by Fiona and Mel Sunquist 2014

(general interest)

Amazon US (incl Kindle)

AbeBooks global

Small Wild Cats - Sanderson and Watson 2011

Small Wild Cats

by J. Sanderson and P. Watson 2011

(general interest)

Amazon US (incl Kindle)

AbeBooks global