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Photo credit: Thomas Marent

Jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi) | ESA status: endangered

Jaguarundi

The jaguarundi is an oddball among cat species. At first glance, it looks more like a large weasel. Its long body, small rounded ears, small head, honey-brown eyes, and uniform fur distinguish it from other neotropical cats like the spotted ocelot, with which it shares its U.S. range. Weighing around 11 pounds, the jaguarundi is smaller than the ocelot and sometimes becomes its prey. Avoiding the nocturnal ocelot may be part of the reason the jaguarundi is most active during the day. The jaguarundi may also emerge at night, especially when the moon is full. The cats spent most of their time on the ground, but can be agile climbers when inspired, such as when they are pursued. Adult jaguarundis have a wide range of vocalizations, many of which are used for friendly contact, courtship, mating, or communication between mothers and kittens. They have at least 13 distinct calls.

Jaguarundi habitat

The jaguarundi’s historic range once stretched from southeastern Arizona to southern Texas, through Mexico, to portions of South America. In the U.S., jaguarundis are found mainly in Tamaulipan thornscrub in southern Texas and southeastern Arizona, a habitat characterized by shorter trees and many thorny shrubs. This habitat is rapidly disappearing.

A Texan refuge

The most important remaining U.S. stronghold for the jaguarundi is the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, but the refuge itself is increasingly an island amid roads, agricultural crops, and development due to a rapidly increasing human population in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Jaguarundi diet

Jaguarundis hunt small rodents, reptiles, and birds in dense vegetation, especially thornscrub. Occasionally, they will catch fish.

What are the threats to the jaguarundi?

Habitat loss is the most serious threat to the jaguarundi. From 1991 to 2000 alone, approximately 113,126 acres of suitable jaguarundi habitat were destroyed in south Texas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has estimated more than a 90 percent decline in Lower Rio Grande Valley brushland jaguarundi habitat in Texas, and has noted that the habitat is also rapidly disappearing along the Rio Grande in Mexico. Thornscrub in the Rio Grande Valley is vanishing at an alarming rate—a serious blow to the jaguarundi and the ocelot, which both depend on this habitat type.

Jaguarundi on the border

Since the jaguarundi lives on the U.S.-Mexico border, it is also threatened by a myriad of human border activities, including immigration, drug trafficking, police and military actions, border installations and fences, and artificial lighting. The proposed border wall dividing the U.S. and Mexico would pose an enormous danger to jaguarundi populations.

To create a safe haven for the jaguarundi and a host of other trans-border animals, scientists and land managers on both sides of the border are calling for international cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico. This is in stark contrast to the current national U.S. drive to separate the people and ecosystems of the two countries. Preserving the biodiversity of both countries will require a consistent, dedicated, and collaborative effort from the U.S. and Mexican governments. Such action has not been forthcoming.

What WildEarth Guardians is doing to save the jaguarundi

The jaguarundi may have been listed as endangered in the U.S. since 1976, but it has been all but forgotten. The FWS has never designated critical habitat for this cat, never written a recovery plan specific to it, and has failed to allocate adequate funds toward jaguarundi habitat acquisition.

Critical habitat designation could safeguard both occupied and unoccupied habitat that is necessary to jaguarundi survival and recovery. Protecting unoccupied habitat would ensure that jaguarundi populations could expand and connect to each other. And studies show that species with critical habitat designations are twice as likely to be improving as those without them.

WildEarth Guardians ensured that the FWS developed a recovery plan for the jaguarundi. We don’t want to see this one-of-a-kind creature vanish forever.

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