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Wild Costa Rica

- Photo via NATUWA Wildlife Sanctuary -

Wild Costa Rica:

the jaguarundi

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Published on Monday, February 12, 2024
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In Costa Rica, the jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi), known in Costa Rica as "León breñero," is a lion that lives in the undergrowth in the English language.

The wildcat name "jaguarundi" is derived from the term yaguarundi, from the Old Guarani language spoken by South American indigenous peoples, which means "dark jaguar."

This is one of Costa Rica's five wild cat species, with the jaguar (Panthera onca), puma (Concolor couguar), ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), margay (Leopardus wiedii), and oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus).

This beautiful cat is endemic to the Americas, from the southern United States to the east of the Andes Mountain Range, which includes Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

Experts from Costa Rica's National System of Conservation Areas (Sinac), the governmental institution in charge of managing the country's national parks and wildlife reserves, have found specimens of this species throughout the majority of the national parks.

The prevalence of wildcats may be found in the Carara National Park, which is located in Puntarenas Province, as well as the Palo Verde National Park in Guanacaste Province.

According to Sinac, the jaguarundi is at risk of extinction and is protected by Law No. 7317 Wildlife Conservation, which prohibits hunting, capturing, trafficking, and keeping in captivity of this species.

The NATUWA Wildlife Sanctuary is home to two of these rarely-seen wild cats. Both female felines, Misti and Lola, were found abandoned in Carara National Park. They are now under the care of an expert team in the refuge located in Puntarenas Province.

This specimen is a medium-sized cat with a slim body and homogeneous colors. Its body is elongated, with short legs, a tiny narrow head, small round ears, a short nose, and a long tail.

The wild cat weighs between 7 to 15 pounds. The head and body lengths range from 21 to 30 inches, with a tail measuring 12 to 20 inches long. Males are slightly larger than females. It is almost twice as large as the domestic cat.


The coat is consistently pigmented, with only a few small markings on the face and belly; nevertheless, kittens are spotted for a brief time. Black and white markings on the lips and nose, similar to those found on cougars, can be visible in youngsters and certain adults. Adults' fur color combinations are gray and red. The coat color serves as effective camouflage for hunting.


The jaguarundi is shy, reclusive and extremely cautious. They can swim in medium-sized rivers. 

They appear to favor hunting throughout nighttime hours. The cat also has climbing abilities but prefers to hunt on the ground.

The jaguarundi feeds on tiny prey such as ground-feeding birds, reptiles, frogs, rodents, fish, and small mammals, among others.  

Jaguarundi is one of many captivating animals that has been spotted in Costa Rica.   Recently, scientists of the Schmidt Ocean Institute and the University of Costa Rica discovered at least four new deep-sea octopus species in a 100-square-mile-sized area off Costa Rica. 

The Wild Costa Rica page is a space for readers to discover more about the fascinating species that make the "Pura Vida" land one of the world's countries with the richest natural diversity.


What have you heard about expats spotting wild animals in Costa Rica? We would like to know your thoughts on this story. Send your comments to news@amcostarica.com