By Vern and Lori Geiger
The Otter Cat
If you ask someone to name a wild cat they will probably say a tiger or a lion. Much lesser known than other wild felines is the jagurundi; this small agile wildcat is native to Mexico, Central America and the northern and central countries of South America down to Argentina and rarely sighted in parts of Texas and New Mexico. A few of jaguarundi are also found in Florida, although these are descendants of a small population introduced to the area in the 1940’s.
In appearance the jaguarundi is unlike most other wildcats—they have no beautiful spots or stripes. Some have compared it to a large weasel or otter. In English it is commonly referred to as an Otter Cat. They are uniform in color, ranging from dark grayish brown to an almost chestnut brown. Jaguarundi kittens are spotted at birth, but lose these spots as they mature, much like a fawn does.
Jaguarundis are more often than not found near running water. They are excellent swimmers and seem to enjoy being in water so it is no wonder they are superb fishermen. They seize the fish with their front paws capturing their prey in just one jump, directly revealing much about its power and strength. Although fish make up a large portion of their diet it does include birds, small mammals, rodents, and reptiles.
They are about twice the size of a large housecat. Head and body length can reach up to 31 inches; its tail may be up to 24 inches long. They have a slender body weighing in at approx. 35 pounds, its head and ears are small in comparison. Jaguarundis are secretive and elusive animals, which may be why not much is known about them; attempts to tag them for tracking and observation have failed and therefore the jaguarundi’s habits in the wild have not been well documented.
Although solitary, the female jaguarundi is often more social in the rearing of her young. The litter size is usually between one and four kittens. They reach maturity at about 22-24 months of age; but may stay with their mother longer. The female raises the young on her own with no help from the male; it is documented that it is common for the male to kill his own offspring.
Even though they are not commonly poached for their fur, their numbers are on the way down. This is principally caused by deforestation and loss of habitat which are the major reasons why so many animals are becoming endangered, not just the wildcats.
Several years ago while volunteering at a sea turtle camp, just before dawn I had the rare opportunity to see a wild jaguaundi as it attempted to raid a nest of turtle eggs. The grace and agility of this beautiful animal was awe inspiring. While it is interesting to be able to see these animals in a zoo, nothing can compare to seeing them in the wild, living free and wild as nature intended. I must admit I felt guilty about not allowing it to snack on the sea turtle eggs, but they too are in danger of extinction.
Interesting fact: it is believed that jaguarundis are the descendants of the Puma, which originates from Asia.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com