National Geographic : 2015 Oct
A genteel disquisition on love and lust in the animal kingdom Basic Instincts With the notable exception of lions living in prides, most cats of the family Felidae are the wild world’s Greta Garbos: They want to be alone. Adults of these roughly 40 cat species are “solitary animals that only come together to mate,” according to the online encyclopedia Animal Diversity Web. That’s true of the margay (below), a smaller cousin of the ocelot. When females are in heat, every 32 to 36 days, males turn up, hang around for a cou- ple of days, and repeatedly initiate a sex act lasting maybe one minute. Then they’re gone. If a female conceives, about two and a half months later she’ll bear one kitten or, rarely, two. That’s convenient, as she has only one pair of mammary glands—but the low birthrate won’t do much to sustain the spe- cies. After about a year offspring move out to lead their own lives of solitude. Most nations forbid selling margays as pets or hunting them for their pelts. Centers such as Uruguay’s Bioparque M’Bopicuá bolster the cat’s numbers with captive breeding. Still, the International Union for Conser- vation of Nature warns that the species is “declining through much of its range” and that by 2025 the population could shrink as much as 30 percent. When forests are razed to become pasture and farmland, shy margays don’t like crossing the changed landscapes—not even for sex. Vanishing habitat plus diminished ranks could make a solitary cat more so. —Patricia Edmonds HABITAT/RANGE Forests in Mexico and in Central and South America CONSERVATION STATUS Near threatened OTHER FACTS Hind leg joints that rotate 180 degrees allow margays to run headfirst down trees. Male margays turn up for a few days and repeatedly initiate sex. Then they ’re gone. Solitar y, Until It’s Amorous PHOTO: JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE This margay (Leopardus wiedii) was photographed at the Cincinnati Zoo.