By Dr. Becker
As felines go, the little jaguarundi -- species name Gulf Coast jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi cacomitli) -- is a bit unconventional. It actually looks more like an otter or large weasel than a cat, with its long body, short legs, small head, oddly shaped ears, and distinctive fur coat. And at around 11 pounds, it weighs less than many housecats.
Adult jaguarundis have quite a repertoire of vocalizations they use to greet friends, court lovers, and establish communication between mothers and their litters. Scientists who have studied the jaguarundi believe it has at least 13 different calls.
The little cats spend much of their time on the ground, but they can also climb fast and high to escape predators. Their diet consists of small rodents, reptiles, and birds that inhabit dense vegetation.
The Last Known Jaguarundi in the U.S. Died on a Roadway in 1986
The natural habitat of the jaguarundi once ranged from southeastern Arizona and southern Texas, down though Mexico, to areas of South America. In the U.S., they are found primarily in Tamaulipan thornscrub, a rapidly diminishing habitat.
Although they have been protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 1976, jaguarundis have not been confirmed in this country since 1986. The major threat to these little cats is habitat loss and fragmentation. Jaguarundis depend on dense vegetation to hunt their prey. It is also one of the species at risk from the Mexico-U.S. border fence, which would further fragment populations and prevent migration.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, jaguarundis disappeared from south Texas due to habitat loss to agriculture and residential development. The last known jaguarundi in the state died on a roadway in 1986.
As of January 2014, the Jaguarundi Finally Has a Recovery Plan
In January this year, the Gulf Coast jaguarundi at long last received a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery plan, which is a document outlining the steps necessary to protect the species from extinction. If the plan is funded and implemented, the species could recover to “unendangered” levels by 2050.
The recovery plan stresses identifying, protecting, restoring, and connecting potential habitat in southern Texas in the Rio Grande Valley. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also intends to evaluate the possibility of reintroducing jaguarundi in Texas. Scientists know very little about this shy little cat who quickly heads into the underbrush when disturbed. The recovery plan would include improving techniques for tracking the cats and learning more about them through population and habitat surveys.