The jaguarundi is a small neotropical cat, not much larger than a house cat. It typically weighs between8 – 16 pounds. Kittens are born after 60 – 75 days of gestation, and litter sizes range from 2 – 4 kittens. Their prey consists of rabbits, small birds, rodents, armadillos, reptiles, and ground-nesting birds. They’ve been seen catching fish from ponds. And they’re good swimmers.
An interesting note about the jaguarundi is the array of vocalizations it makes - at least 13 different sounds to communicate.
This is an unusual characteristic in cats.
Sharing the same lineage as the mountain lion, they are a solid color and may be rusty-brown, grey, or black. Physically, they have long, slender bodies, a long tail, and a small flat head. They resemble weasels or otters more so than cats. In fact, in some parts of South America they are referred to as otter cats.
In Texas, they lived in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and were once present in Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy Counties. They are classified by US Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife as extirpated (extinct in Texas).
The last confirmed sighting in Texas was in 1986 outside Brownsville.
These small felines exist in 19 countries, from Mexico to nearly all of South America. Though it is the most widely distributed small cat in the western hemisphere – and its relative, the mountain lion, is the most widespread carnivore in the Americas – little is known about this cat. It is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) but is classified as Threatened in Mexico and Vulnerable in Brazil. Because they’re diurnal species (active in the daytime), they may appear widespread because most other cats are nocturnal or crepuscular and aren’t as readily conspicuous. Being diurnal, it avoids competition with the much larger nocturnal ocelot, the crepuscular (active at twilight) and nocturnal (active at night) mountain lion and the margay.
However, widely spread doesn’t necessarily equate to abundance. The IUCN believes the jaguarundi doesn’t appear to be abundant anywhere, especially in comparison to ocelots and Geoffroy’s cats. More research is needed to determine the answer.
Major threats to jaguarundis include habitat loss and disruption, road mortality, and free-ranging domestic dogs that inflict parvovirus or canine distemper.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has a recovery plan that would remove the jaguarundi from the endangered species list. It calls for at least three separate populations, with a total size of 500 individuals. However, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is focused on the ocelot, a cat that still exists in Texas as opposed to one that has been extirpated. Further, reintroducing the jaguarundi to south Texas would result in competition for the endangered ocelot in the remnant thorn scrub that still exists - an effort not widely supported. Jaguarundis face the same problems of habitat degradation as the ocelot.