Five different feline species still stalk the hills and forests of Honduras, though in a much-reduced habitat from former years. These animals are mainly nocturnal, so unless you go hiking at night or stumble across their den, it’s very unlikely any of Honduras’s cats will ever cross your path.
The king of cats is unquestionably the jaguar, called a jaguar, tigre, or pantera in Honduras. The largest cat in the Americas, jaguars measure up to two meters in length and can either be brown with black spots or flat black. These majestic, powerful animals are impressive hunters, known to drag off horses and cattle and even go fishing for crocodile or manatee. But jungle mammals such as monkeys, wild boars, or deer are their most common prey.
Though in grave danger from hunters and habitat loss (each jaguar needs 25 square kilometers of territory to hunt), jaguars can show up in the oddest of places. In 1995, an evidently confused adult female wandered out of the forests of Pico Bonito, through pineapple plantations, across the La Ceiba–Tela road, and into a house in the village of San Juan. The inhabitants, somewhat perturbed by their new guest, closed up the house with the animal inside and called for help. After it had thoroughly trashed the inside of the house, local environmentalists eventually managed to get the jaguar into a wooden cage, which was then put into the back of a truck and driven back up to the forest. As the “rescuers” arrived at the edge of the forest, the enraged (or terrified) jaguar managed to destroy its cage and leap to freedom.
A bit smaller than jaguars and with an unspotted brown coat are cougars, also known as pumas or mountain lions (león in Spanish). While the jaguar sticks close to humid forests, cougars are quite happy in much more arid environments, like the mountains of southern and central Honduras. Cougars have unusually large back paws, which help make them gifted jumpers. Without much of a start, a cougar can easily clear 7–8 meters in a single leap, and they have been seen to jump from heights of up to 20 meters. Not standoffish when it comes to domestic animals, cougars are happy to raid the local farm for a tasty sheep, chicken, or pig to supplement their normal repast of wild pigs, raccoons, or other small wild mammals. Because of this proclivity, the rural folk of Honduras vilify cougars and hunt them down whenever they can.
Slightly smaller than the cougar, and often confused with it, is the jaguarundi, which can appear both in a rust color and in black. Smaller still, both about the size of a very large house cat and with spotted coats, are the ocelot and margay (both called tigrillos in Spanish).
© Chris Humphrey and Amy E. Robertson from Moon Honduras, 5th Edition