The Jaguar is likely one of the most well-known cats of Belize. Jaguars can reach lengths of around 7 feet from head to tail and weigh up to 250lbs. This cat used to be very common in the coastal mangroves, savannas, and shrub lands of Belize, however it is highly prized for its fur and is a persecuted killer of livestock which makes the jaguar a target for hunting and poaching. These cats are rarely seen during the day time, and spend their nights hunting prey along the rivers, lakes, and mangroves. Prey of the Jaguar include peccaries, monkeys, agouties, deer, birds, fish, lizards, turtles, among others. Historically the Jaguar is thought to be a powerful being. They are depicted in many Mayan ruins and art. Since this time of reverence the cats populations have been reduced due to hunting for fur trade, deforestation, and poaching of cats on protected lands.
The Puma, or mountain lion, is the second largest wild cat found in Belize. The puma can reach 5-8 feet in length and weigh around 100lbs.They are adapted to living in all kinds of areas ranging from the deserts of north America to the tropical forests of central and south America. They are opportunistic predators who rely on ambushing their prey. They hunt deer, agouti, and paca. This cat is an apex predator and plays a very important role in controlling the populations of prey species. Theses cats are also facing population declines as a result of hunting and deforestation.
Ocelots are one of the smaller cats of Belize. They only reach sizes of around 3 feet in length and weights of 30lbs. They are active during the day and night time and live in tropical forest. These cats spend their time foraging on the ground, and are rarely seen in trees. These cats are endangered from poaching for their furs. The trade of Ocelots fur was banned in the United States in 1972, but continued pressure from deforestation and agricultural development are still putting high pressure on the already fragmented population. The name “Ocelot” is derive from an old Aztec word “tlalocelot” which means ‘tiger cat’.
The Jaguarundi is another smaller cat that can be found in Belize. Its color can vary from black to gray, to a yellow or tan coloration. They grow to be a max size of 2 and a half feet and weigh 15lbs. They live in dense forests and open scrub habitat, and feed on smaller animals including rats, rabbits, and mice. Their feeding habits are of great economic importance in Belize since they prey on agricultural pests. Unfortunately they too are facing declines from deforestation and agricultural pressure.
The last of the wild cats found in Belize, the Margay. Margays live from Mexico down into Argentina. They live exclusively in forested areas, and are very tactful climber. These small cats reach lengths of around 2 feet and weigh a whopping 5 to 8 lbs. They may be tiny, but these cats are extremely nimble and spend a great deal of time in the forest canopies. The Margay is strictly nocturnal and has ankle joints designed specifically for climbing down trees vertically. They feed on arboreal prey including opossum, monkey, squirrel, rat, and bird species. These cats do not thrive in human presence, and are threatened by deforestation. They are currently listed as an endangered species, but Belize is home to one of the healthier populations.
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