|Listed||June 14, 1976|
|Description||Slender-bodied, long-tailed, unspotted cat.|
|Habitat||Chaparral, mesquite thickets near streams.|
|Food||Birds and small mammals.|
|Reproduction||Litter of two to four kittens.|
|Threats||Traps, habitat loss.|
Felis yagouaroundi (also classified as Herpailurus yagouaroundi ) is a weasel-like cat about twice the size of a large housecat. Head and body length can reach up to 31 in (80 cm); its tail may be up to 24 in (60 cm) long. Its body is slender, its head and ears are small, and its features are flattened. The jaguarundi has two color phases: brownish gray and chestnut. The two color phases were once thought to represent two distinct species; the gray one called "jaguarundi," and the red one called "eyra;" but they are now recognized as the same species—and both color phases can even be found in the same litter. Four subspecies of Felis yagouaroundi occur in North and Central America, and all are considered Endangered. Two subspecies are restricted to Central America: F. y. fossata (southern Mexico to Nicaragua) and F. y. panamensis (Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama). The two subspecies that range into the United States—F. y. cacomitli and F. y. tolteca —are both federally listed as Endangered.
The jaguarundi is an elusive animal, concealing itself in heavy undergrowth and stealing away when humans approach. Past attempts to tag animals for tracking have failed, and the jaguarundi's habits in the wild have not been well documented. Although an agile climber, the jaguarundi prefers to forage on the ground, stalking birds and small mammals in brush and scrub. The jaguarundi is most active in the daytime (diurnal). Gestation is 63-70 days; two to four kittens are born per litter, usually between March and August. Though not enough is known about the species' parenting behavior, research has shown that the females are responsible for all parental care. Kittens are rarely left alone for long periods of time. Birds are returned to the den for the young kittens to feed on. Kittens eventually accompany the mother on hunting trips. Females have been observed abandoning dens with kittens when discovered by humans or dogs.
These cats inhabit chaparral, mesquite thickets, and dense thorny brushlands, typically near streams and rivers where prey is abundant. Thickets need not be continuous but may be interspersed with open fields or pastures.
The jaguarundi once ranged throughout southern Texas and southeastern Arizona, and along both coasts of Mexico south into Central America. It was especially prevalent in the native brushlands of the lower Rio Grande region of Texas and Mexico. The jaguarundi has nearly been extirpated from the United States. It may no longer occur in the Arizona portion of its range, and the Texas population probably consists of only a few animals. Evidence of the animals continues to surface, however, particularly in Cameron and Willacy counties, Texas, at the extreme southern tip of the state. Sadly, sightings sometimes come in the form of fatalities, such as the 1986 finding of a jaguarundi killed by a car in Cameron County. Sightings from Brazoria County, south of Houston, may have been of released animals. In 1996 two sightings of jaguars were confirmed with photographs—one from the Peloncillo Mountains along the New Mexico border and the other from the Baboquivari Mountains in south central Arizona. These animals likely originated from jaguar populations in northern Mexico.
The reasons for the rarity of this species are not fully understood, but undoubtedly the loss of vast tracts of mesquite thicket and other scrub growth in southern Arizona and Texas has been a major factor in the species' decline. Native brushland continues to be cleared for agriculture and for livestock pasture. When the cats were more common, they were occasionally caught in traps set for other predators. They have also been known to be hunted by farmers because of their tendency toward poultry predation.
Conservation and Recovery
The goal of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is to reintroduce the jaguarundi into abandoned portions of its historic habitat. Recovery efforts are hampered by a lack of scientific knowledge about the animal, its behavior, and its needs. Research into the cat's behavior continues at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in southern Texas. A successful captive breeding program has been implemented at the Desert Museum at the University of Arizona, and biologists hope to use captive-bred animals in the reintroduction effort. South Texas is becoming a friendlier place to both the Jaguarundi and the Endangered ocelot, thanks to a voluntary 1995 agreement between Bayview Irrigation District 11 and the FWS to conserve brushy habitat. District 11 owns approximately 100 mi (160 km) of irrigation and drainage ditches in Cameron County, the heart of the ocelot's remaining U.S. range and also crucial range for the jaguarundi. Brush growing along these ditches is important cover and dispersal habitat for the region's isolated ocelot populations. In the past, much of this habitat was lost when banks were cleared during the removal of silt and debris from the ditches. Under the agreement, District 11 modified its maintenance procedures. On previously cleared ditches, the District is allowing one bank to re-vegetate where practical and conducting its cleaning work from the other side. The resulting regrowth of brushy habitat provides vital corridors for the endangered cats. The jaguarundi is protected by the state of Texas, as well as by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which prohibits international trade in the species. However, there has been little commercial exploitation of the animal.
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
P.O. Box 1306
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87103-1306
Telephone: (505) 248-6911
Fax: (505) 248-6915
Daniels, P. 1983. "Prowlers on the Mexican Border. "National Wildlife 21(6):14-17.
Nowak, Ronald M, ed. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World, 5th edition. Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1987. "Endangered and Threatened Species of Texas and Oklahoma (with 1988 Addendum)." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1987. "Texas Cats Recovery Plan, Technical/Agency Draft." Endangered Species Office, Albuquerque, New Mexico.