CatSG

Jaguarundi

Herpailurus yagouaroundi

IUCN Red List: Least Concern

Weight: 3-7 kg
Body length: 48.8-77.5 cm
Tail length: 27.5-59 cm
Longevity: 10-20 years
Litter size: 1-4 cubs

Description

The jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi) is phylogenetically part of the puma lineage, thus being closer to the puma (Puma concolor) and the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) than to the other Neotropical cats. Like the cheetah, the jaguarundi cannot retract the claws of its hind paws completely, and its behaviour resembles the puma more than other medium-sized cats in the same habitat.

The jaguarundi has a small, thin and elongated head, small close-set eyes, wide-set very rounded ears, a low-slung slender body, short legs and a very long tail, which gives it a unique appearance; it is sometimes in fact called “otter cat”. The coat of the jaguarundi is short and uniform with three color phases, brownish-black, grey, and yellowish-red. The head often times presents a lighter coloration than the body. The reddish phase tends to be seen more often on open/dryer habitats. In fact, in the semi-arid Brazilian Caatinga scrub it is the most frequent color morph. The blackish phase, on the other hand, seems to be more associated with rainforests. Nevertheless, all color phases could be found in all environments. Sometimes there are markings on the face, belly and especially the limbs.  

Other names

Language/Country

Name

Belize (Kekchi; Mayan)

halari (kakicoohish;ekmuch)

Bolivia

gato griz

Brazil

gato-mourisco, jaguarundi, maracajá-preto, gato-preto, gato vermelho, gato-azu.

Colombia

gato pardo, gato servante, ulama

Costa Rica

Leon breñero

English

jaguarundi, otter cat

French

jaguarondi

French Guiana

jaguarondi, chat noir

German

Yaguarundi, Wieselkatze, Eyra

Guatemala (Kekchi; Mayan)

tejón, mbaracaya-eira (kakicoohish; ekmuch)

Honduras (Mayan)

gato cerban (ekmuch)

Panama

tigrillo congo, tigrillo negro

Peru

leon breñero, leoncillo, anushi-puma

Spanish

yaguarundi, onza, gato moro, gato eyra

Surinam

boesikati

Uruguay

maracaja-preto, gato-preto, gato mourisco

Venezuela

gato cervantes

Status and Distribution

The jaguarundi is listed as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List but as Near Threatened in Argentina and as Threatened in Mexico. In the latest Red List assessment of Brazil it was classified as Vulnerable. The jaguarundi has been considered to be relatively common over much of its range, perhaps because it is diurnal and uses open habitats, which makes it more readily seen than the other species. However, research indicates that it is rather uncommon and a low density species often found at densities of 0.01-0.05 individuals per km² or even lower. In only a few high density areas, it seems to reach a density of up to 0.2/km². The jaguarundi usually ranks third in order of abundance of the small-medium Neotropical felid guild, ranking first usually only in some open/dryer habitats, where ocelots are absent or rare.

The jaguarundi’s distribution range extends from southern U.S. through Mexico to southern Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay down to central Argentina. Today, it is probably extinct in the U.S. and Uruguay. The jaguarundi occurs generally up to 2,000 m elevation and is considered to be more a lowland species. However, in Colombia it was reported up to 3,200 m.

Extant distribution area of the jaguarundi (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015).

Habitat

The jaguarundi lives in a wide variety of open and closed habitats from Monte desert, dry scrub, semiarid thorn forest, restinga, swamp, savannah, wet/swampy savannas, wet grassland and forests (tropical, subtropical, rainforest, deciduous/semi-deciduous, pine, cloud, montane/pre-montane), to subalpine rainy paramo, both pristine and disturbed. The jaguarundi is rare and thinly distributed in moist forest types, especially dense rainforest. It seems to use more open areas than the other small felids and yet the jaguarundi is most often seen in areas close to dense cover. It is reported that the jaguarundi prefers forest edges and secondary brush communities but this may be because it is in such areas that these primarily diurnal cats are most frequently seen. A radio collared animal in Belize used old fields and second-growth forest. It preferred areas with riparian habitat near streams. In a secondary forest/agriculture mosaic in southern Brazil, three jaguarundis used the riparian forest to move about. Access to dense ground vegetation appears to determine habitat suitability for the jaguarundi. Although jaguarundis show  great habitat flexibility, occupying diverse environments such as secondary growth habitat, disturbed areas or human induced grasslands it does not seem to be abundant anywhere, but rather being uncommon to rare, especially in comparison to ocelots in tropical areas and Geoffroy’s cats in more temperate habitats. 

Ecology and Behaviour

The jaguarundi has a remarkable characteristic which is very unusual in cats: it uses at least thirteen different calls to communicate. These range from purring, whistling and chattering, up to chirping like a bird. In contrast to many other felids, the jaguarundi is strictly diurnal and hunts generally on the ground. In a radio telemetry study in Belize, activity peaks were from 14:00 to 16:00 hours with very little activity after sunset. This pattern was confirmed through camera trap studies in Brazil and Argentina. This behaviour enables the jaguarundi to segregate and thus minimize competition with the nocturnally active ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) and especially with the margay (Leopardus wiedii). The potential for competition between the ocelot and the jaguarundi leads the dominant ocelot to negatively impact the other species through the threat of interspecific killing/intra-guild predation. This phenomenon is called "ocelot effect" and also affects the margay and the tiger cats. Thus, in areas where the ocelot is present, the jaguarundi is rare. Due to its diurnal activity the jaguarundi is seen more often than other Neotropical felids. Consequently, it was erroneously considered common for a long time.

In spite of its mostly terrestrial activity the jaguarundi is a good and agile climber and swimmer. They can jump up to 2 meters in the air to catch birds, have been seen pursuing marmosets up in trees. Its arboreal capabilities should be no wonder, given its very large tail. Although the jaguarundi is considered a solitary carnivore, it has been observed travelling or foraging in pairs. Nevertheless, these could have simply been mother and pre-dispersal progeny. Jaguarundis may travel up to 7 km per day. Very few studies of home range size have been undertaken and thus ranging behaviour is not well understood. In Belizean rainforest, home ranges for male jaguarundis were very large, several times larger than those reported for sympatric jaguars. One female used a home range of around 20 km², while two males used home ranges of 88 and 100 km². The home ranges of the two males overlapped less than 25%. In the savannas of Brazil, home ranges for males and females varied from 18 to 40.2 km², whereas in forest and forest/agriculture mosaic in Brazil it ranged from 1.4 to 34.9 km². In low tropical forest/agriculture mosaic in Mexico mean home range of eight males was 9.6 km², whereas those of five females were 8.9 km². In this way, although jaguarundi home range is larger than expected for its body size, it is still within the same pattern as those of other sympatric Neotropical felids, and those found for the males in Belize seem to be an oddity.

The reproductive season of the jaguarundi is probably year round with peaks in different months depending on the area. Estrus lasts for 2.4 - 3.9 days, the estrus cycle from 51 - 56 and the gestation period for 70-75 days. Average litter size is 1.94, varying from one to four. Cubs open their eyes at about six to eight days, leave the den at four weeks and start with solid food at four to five weeks but still suckle up to 60 days. The age at sexual maturity has been reported to vary from 1.6 to between 2-3 years. More likely it should follow the same pattern of other Neotropical species of around two years of age. 

Prey

The jaguarundi preys mostly on small animals weighing less than 1 kg such as small mammals (mice, rats, small marsupials), birds and reptiles. The bulk of the diet comprises of very small mammals (< 0.1 kg) and small mammals (0.1–0.7 kg). However, prey greater than 1 kg, like rabbits, opossums and armadillos is not unusual. Birds show up as frequent and important prey items in several areas. Lizards and snakes are also taken and could be important in some areas. Mean prey mass is about 380 g, thus, larger than that of the tiger cats and margay but much smaller than that of the ocelot. An interesting fact related to jaguarundi diet is that it possesses the same canine diameter and other buccal measurements related to food ingestion as the smaller margay. Nevertheless, the former takes larger prey than the latter, likely due to its more powerful muscular capabilities. Although the jaguarundi, as all small-medium felids, eventually ingests leaves and insects, these items do not contribute to their energy intake and thus are not an actual part of their diet. The jaguarundi has also been observed to prey upon characid fish stranded in a puddle.

Main Threats

Generally the jaguarundi has never been exploited for commercial trade but was surely caught in traps set for the commercial use of other species. It may be occasionally hunted around settled areas and is commonly killed due to poultry depredation. In some areas they are killed for medicinal or ornamental purposes, or taken as pets.

Despite its apparent tolerance to habitat alterations, the main threats of the jaguarundi are habitat loss and fragmentation which also can lead to prey reduction. The jaguarundi is more associated with savannah than with dense forest. The habitat alterations of the Brazilian savannas into industrial agriculture landscapes are therefore seriously threatening it. How far its adaptability reaches and how much competition with other cat species influences its behaviour is until now unclear. Jaguarundi populations in protected areas are expected to be very low, likely because of the negative impact of the ocelot.  

Another potential threat is the lack of information about this species' life history and ecology. Therefore, the identification of threats and the assessment of their impacts are difficult. The jaguarundi was long perceived to be a common species but this perception is biased by its diurnal activity and use of open areas. 

Conservation Efforts and Protection Status

The jaguarundi is included in the Appendix II of CITES and the jaguarundi populations of Central and North America have been listed in Appendix I since 1987. The jaguarundi is protected over much of its range and hunting is prohibited in Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Uruguay, U.S. and Venezuela. In Peru hunting is regulated and the jaguarundi is not legally protected in Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guyana and Nicaragua.

As little is known about the jaguarondi, its status should be periodically reviewed and there is an urgent need for further research on its ecology, demographics and natural history in order to identify threats and their impacts as well as to ensure that adequate conservation measures can be implemented.