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Jaguar kills ocelot in rare footage, and climate change might be behind it

Another wild cat was an unusual meal choice for a jaguar, so scientists are looking for the reason.

This footage shows a male jaguar catching an ocelot at a watering hole in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala in 2019.
Washington State University

Jaguars are loner big cats that typically eat tapirs, anteaters, armadillos, boar and even reptiles. A camera trap at a watering hole in Guatemala's Maya Biosphere Reserve captured some extremely rare footage of an unusual jaguar meal: an ocelot.

Ocelots are on the smaller side of the wildcat size scale. The footage showed the male jaguar letting a tapir pass by and waiting it out to instead nab the cat. Washington State University (WSU) described the event as a possible "sign of climate-change-induced conflict" in a statement on Tuesday.

WSU said there are no other known images of a jaguar directly killing an ocelot, though researchers have found signs of ocelots in the larger cats' feces.

Ecologists from WSU and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) studied the footage and published a paper on the predator interaction in the journal Biotropica in late December.

The timing of the watering hole incident was important. It happened in March 2019 during a serious drought. "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," said study co-author WSU assistant professor Daniel Thornton.

Watering holes were at a premium at this time in 2019 in the Guatemalan forest. Many previously wet areas had dried up. The conditions seemed to trigger a sort of traffic jam of jaguars with seven different cats spotted at the hole. The camera also captured a fight between jaguars, which normally don't cross each other's paths. 

The jaguar-ocelot predation could be a small sign of things to come as more frequent and more extreme droughts strike a warming Earth

Study co-author Rony García-Anleu of the WCS said, "Unfortunately, climate change and associated droughts are predicted to worsen, which means tough times are ahead for wildlife that depend on watering holes for their survival."