SUNY Cortland meets Cortland the Margay

This is a guest post from student Linda . . .

On Wednesday, January 7th our group from SUNY Cortland got a guided tour of the Belize Zoo from its founder and director, Sharon Matola. Many of the animals hurried to the edges of their enclosures to greet Sharon and get their share of the special treats she brings them. She told us how each animal had come to live at the zoo and related other characteristics she’s noticed while working with each animal.

I am a cat lover and was really looking forward to meeting the ocelot, puma, jaguars and margays at the zoo. I was not disappointed, and I will never forget the experience of seeing these beautiful animals up close in their native habitat!

The two adult margays that are on exhibit at the zoo were sleeping as our group passed by their enclosure. The pair was curled up comfortably on a tree branch, so we only stopped briefly, but I lingered longer than the others in hopes of seeing some activity. Our group had just finished visiting the howler monkeys, and as a result the howlers were still making the loud, scary noises they are famous for. One of the margays seemed annoyed by the noise, and walked down the tree and began moving about in the pen. I tried to snap a picture but my camera wasn’t fast enough to keep up with him and he was well hidden by the foliage. I waited, hoping to sneak another peek and possibly a photo, but after a few minutes I decided I should catch up with the group.

The last stop on our tour was to see Cortland, the female margay cat born this past August. Sharon explained that Cortland is not on exhibit at the zoo; she is being reserved for purposes of photography. Sharon decided split us into two groups of eight, because she feared a large group might frighten Cortland, since she usually sees only Sharon and the zookeepers that care for her.
My long anticipated wait was about to end; Cortland would become a firsthand experience. I volunteered to be amongst the first group going in. As we entered Cortland’s pen, I hoped she would be awake. The darling was curled up on a tree branch and upon being aware of our presence, she peered back at us. It was around this time that I felt something biting my toe. This moment was important so I did my best to ignore the pain. I was no longer able ignore the almost burning sensation and looked down to see several fire ants crawling around on my left foot. My first thought was, “why now?”

While the others were “oohing” and “aahing” over Cortland’s beauty, I was dealing with a fire ant attack! As fast as I could I brushed the ants off my feet and ignored the pain. As my attention returned, I focused on Cortland and snapped some pictures of her. After a couple of minutes Cortland climbed to a higher tree branch. Her ears began to twitch. Was she listening to the group’s chatter? Was she curious or afraid? I asked Sharon. Sharon responded that she wasn’t sure; she’d not yet seen this behavior from Cortland.

Upon returning home, I decided to research Cortland’s reaction to our encounter. The information I found referred to cats in general, and stated that cats will twitch their ears whenever prey is near. Had Cortland moved to a higher branch because she viewed us as prey? It seems unlikely given how large we were compared to Cortland’s 18” frame, but according to Sharon she is one tough cat, so maybe she thought we’d make a nice value-sized meal?

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