Unprecedented Camera Trap Footage Shows a Jaguar Capturing an Ocelot

Unprecedented Camera Trap Footage Shows a Jaguar Capturing an Ocelot

Conservationists in Guatemala have documented a rare example of a predatory wildcat preying on another. Sadly, climate change could make these sorts of interactions more common.

The jaguar had been lying in wait near the edge of the waterhole for the better part of an hour. The predator had decided on a fortuitous spot, as the other nearest water source was over 10 km away. It was the dry season in Guatemala, and water had become scarce.

A large tapir arrived at the scene, but the big cat decided to pass on that potential meal. The jaguar finally sprung to action when an ocelot stopped by for a precious gulp, pouncing on the smaller cat and carrying it away in its large jaws. Eerily, four glowing eyes can be seen in the darkness — two of which will never again see the light of day.

A series of camera trap images showing the scene.  (Gif: L.Perera‐Romero et al., 2020/Biotropica/WSU)
A series of camera trap images showing the scene. (Gif: L.Perera‐Romero et al., 2020/Biotropica/WSU)

This rare interaction, in which a predatory wildcat preys upon another, is described in a new research paper published in Biotropica. Wildlife ecologists from Washington State University and the Wildlife Conservation Society documented the scene with a camera trap placed near the waterhole — one of dozens the team had set up in the region.

Jaguars, which can weigh over 91 kg, don’t typically hunt ocelots, which weigh between 18 and 20 kg. These are the first known images of an ocelot being captured by a jaguar, according to a WSU release.

The scene was captured in March 2019 at the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The team, which was studying the distribution of animals in northern Guatemala, set up camera traps at 42 different waterholes, of which only 21 had water during the drought. As previously noted, the nearest waterhole to the one shown here was many miles away, highlighting the strategic importance of the spot for wildlife.

During the dry season and times of severe droughts, “the probability of aggressive interactions between carnivores might increase when fixed, valuable resources such as water cannot be easily partitioned,” wrote the authors in the study.

Among other episodes captured at this waterhole, the camera traps showed a jaguar attempting to catch a young tapir and a fight between two jaguars. The conservationists documented upwards of seven individual jaguars at this particular waterhole — an unusual observation, given the tendency of this species to stay away from each other and stick to their own territories.

“Although these predator-on-predator interactions may be rare, there may be certain instances when they become more prevalent, and one of those could be over contested water resources,” Daniel Thornton, an assistant professor at WSU and a co-author on the paper, explained in the WSU statement.

To which he added: “People don’t often think of tropical systems as being dry, but in many parts of the world, tropical rains are quite seasonal, and with climate change, some of these tropical ecosystems are expected to become even more seasonal. The more isolated and rare water resources become, the more they’re going to become hotspots of activity.”

Big cats won’t be the only animals competing for water if climate change continues unchecked. Experts have identified hotspots around the world where humans may soon be at war over access to water.

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