José D. Ramírez-Fernández

Most of the places in Mesoamerica have 5 common species of wild cats. These five species are even found in the north of South America: jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay and jaguarundi. But north of Ecuador, particularly in the Cordillera de Talamanca in Costa Rica and Panama, there is a sixth species of wild cat. The Sixth Species is commonly called by different names – spotted cat, oncilla, tigrina, or tiger-cat. But it has only one scientific name: Leopardus tigrinus.

The ONCILLA CONSERVATION project within the Costa Rica Wildlife Foundation was born in order to answer two fundamental questions regarding the current conservation status of the oncilla or tiger-cat in Costa Rica. In a study carried out in 2013, the authors found indications that the subspecies of oncilla present in the Cordillera de Talamanca diverges genetically from the South American subspecies. Therefore one of our main objectives in this project is to reassess the taxonomic status of the species to clarify this question. Is the Central American tiger-cat species actually a different species? If the answer is affirmative, that would confer the special category of endemic to the oncilla from the Talamanca Mountain Range in the highlands of Costa Rica and Panama. Taking into account that its current conservation status according to the IUCN is Vulnerable, an additional concern arises about this rare species unique in the world, will its Central American populations be under any threat? If so, we may be facing a more critically endangered species than we already know.

José is a Costa Rican biologist with a degree in zoology, where he investigated some ecological and demographic aspects of Talamanca Mountain Range endemic mice. Although his main interest group has always been wild mice, and cats are synonymous with predation and danger for those, Jose accepted the challenge of investigating the oncilla upon learning of the particular conservation situation facing this unique species in the world. Now Jose is working as coordinator of the OC project, leading an amazing multi-disciplinary ongrowing team of great professionals with passion for conservation, focused on understanding and implementing solutions to the current threats this rare species and other small wild cats face in the region.

 

Oncilla Conservation Team:

  • Patricia Blanco Murillo (arts, design & communication)
  • Juan Carlos Delgado Carazo (genetics)
  • Fabiola Araya Chavarría (education)
  • Lucia M. Cole (human dimensions)

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