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Jaguarundi - The weasel like cat


The jaguarundi is small, slender-bodied, long-tailed, weasel-like cat. TheyJaguarundi Face are native to Central America and the northern and central countries of South America down to Argentina. In southern Texas, They are denizens of the dense, thorny thickets of where cacti, mesquite, cat claw, and other spine-studded vegetation abounds. There, these cats live a life of relative safety because such thickets are almost impenetrable to both dogs and man which are their chief enemies. They spend most of their time on the ground, but they are expert climbers and garner part of their food in the trees and bushes. They are largely active at night but move about a good deal in the daytime, often going to water to drink at midday.


While they are not native to the south-eastern United States, it is believed that a feral population exists in Florida, established from an introduced population of escaped pets in the 1940’s. They were reported to be quite easy to "tame" by early Central American natives, and were used to control rodent populations around villages. Today, it is not recommended to keep these or any other wild animal, as pets. Jaguarundis are one of the only felines to not have contrasting colors on the backs of their ears.


In South and Central America, they are most commonly found in lowland habitats with good cover, such as scrubland, but is also found less commonly in dense tropical vegetation. The jaguarundi can often be found close to running water and is an expert catcher of fish, which are caught with its probing front paws. Reports on the other prey species associated with the cat tend to vary on a regional basis but in general they include birds, which form a large part of its diet, small mammals, rodents, and reptiles, and rabbits.


The body of the jaguarundi is long and is supported by short legs. They measure up to 30 inches in length with an additional tail of about 20 inches. The head is a flattened shape, with short weasel like ears, narrow brown eyes and is small in proportion to its body size. They have a long "otter-like" tail, and a sleek, unmarked coat. They are  spotted at birth but the spotting is lost at around three-four months old. Genetically, they are different from other cats as they have a chromosome count of 38, as do both the puma and jaguar, where as the remaining small felids in South America have only 36.


It is is diurnal in its hunting activities, although in parts of its range there seems to be evidence to support more crepuscular activity. Although the cat can climb well and often rests in the branches of trees, it is mostly terrestrial in its hunting. Although a solitary hunter, they are often more social in the rearing of young. The litter size is usually between 2 to 4 kittens and they are born after a gestation period of approximately 70 days. They reach maturity at about 22-24 months of age.


Contrary to earlier beliefs of this species as relatively common and abundant, research indicates that the jaguarundi has become a very uncommon, low density species. Densities are very low everywhere it has been sampled, and they are more commonly found in a few restricted high density areas. The jaguarundi’s numbers are negatively impacted by those of the larger sized ocelot.


This small-sized felid body shape suggests the species to be mostly terrestrial. However, it moves about easily in trees. Because it is mostly diurnal, it tends to be the most easily seen Neotropical felid, which lead to the false assumption it was common. The species is not the dominant small cat species in most areas, even in most areas of open habitats. It has several color morphs - brownish-black, grey and reddish yellow - which can even be found in the same litter.


The species is generally not exploited for commercial trade, although jaguarundi's are doubtless caught in traps set for commercially valuable species and may be subject to low intensity hunting pressure around settled areas. Its main threats are however, habitat loss and fragmentation, especially for large scale agriculture and pasture. They are also commonly killed for killing poultry.


The species is protected across most of its range, witWild Jaguarundih hunting prohibited in Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Uruguay, United States and Venezuela, and hunting regulations in place in Peru. Further studies are required on the species ecology, demographics, natural history, and threats. Populations in protected areas are expected to be very low, likely because of the impact of the higher ocelot densities. This species is often perceived as not threatened due to its visibility ( it is diurnal ) and use of open habitats.


Although the fur of the jaguarundi is not highly sought after by fur traders the cat is at risk through general deforestation and loss of its natural habitat. In the United States, where sightings of the cat are very rare, it is classified as an endangered species. Four sub-species of jaguarundi are listed in CITES Appendix 1 with the remaining sub-species in Appendix 2. The IUCN Red Book classifies the jaguarundi as ‘Least Concern’.