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Sunday Species Snapshot: Gulf Coast Jaguarundi

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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jaguarundiThese endangered wild cats, with their distinctively short ears and long tails, aren’t much bigger than your average housecat. Although they have been protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 1976, they have not been confirmed in this country since 1986.

Species name: The Gulf Coast jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi cacomitli)

Where found: Eastern Mexico and southern Texas, making it the northernmost of eight jaguarundi subspecies. The cats haven’t been confirmed in the U.S. in nearly three decades, although unconfirmed sightings continue to trickle in.

IUCN Red List status: Not assessed as a subspecies. The Gulf Coast jaguarundi is listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Major threat: Habitat loss and fragmentation. The cats depend on dense vegetation to hunt their prey, which includes everything from birds to rodents to lizards. The jaguarundi is one of the species frequently mentioned as being at risk from the Mexico-United States border fence, which would further fragment populations and prevent migration.

Notable conservation programs: None, although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally published a recovery plan (pdf) for the subspecies earlier this month following a lawsuit by WildEarth Guardians. The plan lists several actions that would be necessary to reestablish jaguarundi populations in Texas, including assessing habitat and land connectivity for migration, developing survey techniques to count the animals, and developing partnerships to help promote jaguarundi conservation. FWS will also explore the possibility of reintroducing the animals to Texas from Mexico.

Photo: A different jaguarondi subspecies photographed at Zoo Sao Paulo in Brazil by Fabio Manfredini. Used under Creative Commons license

Previous Sunday Snapshots:

John R. Platt About the Author: Twice a week, John Platt shines a light on endangered species from all over the globe, exploring not just why they are dying out but also what's being done to rescue them from oblivion. Follow on Twitter @johnrplatt.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Cudjoebill 9:37 pm 01/27/2014

    Interestingly, occasional reports of jaguarundi sightings have been made over the last 20 years, including one in the early 2000′s in Curry Hammock State Park (Florida Keys, Monroe County, Florida). Florida’s official policy is to consider them “introduced”, but jaguarundis have never been popular exotic pets. I’ve wondered whether this might be a relic population. DNA studies would tell a lot.

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  2. 2. John R. Platt in reply to John R. Platt 8:13 am 01/28/2014

    Very interesting, Cudjoebill! I hadn’t heard the Florida connection. I’ll have to look into it!

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