When we think wildcats, we usually see spots, but the jaguarundi is the rare wild felid whose furry pelt comes in a range of solid shades, from chestnut and brown to gray and black. His appearance is unique in other ways as well — so long and lithe that he might on quick glance be mistaken for a member of the weasel family.
“They’re unusual looking because they have a more pointed face and different colors,” says Howard Quigley, PhD, executive director of Panthera’s jaguar program. The dark-colored jaguarundis may be the source of many reports of “black panthers” in Mexico and throughout Central America, Dr. Quigley says.
“People see a cat, and it’s all black, and they can’t tell how big it is from 200 yards away, and they say, ‘There’s a black panther.’”
The jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi) is one of the lesser-known members of the family Felidae, despite having a wide range that starts as far south as central Argentina up to northern Mexico and possibly even south Texas.
That state has had no documented sightings of the elusive cats since 1986 but plenty of anecdotal ones. And despite the name, the small wildcats — weighing 7 to 17 pounds — are not mini jaguars. Genetically, they are more closely related to pumas.
While jaguarundis face the same threat of habitat disturbance as other wildcats, they are at slightly less risk because they adapt well to living around humans. They aren’t typically hunted for their fur, although farmers who lose chickens to them will shoot them.
Currently, the IUCN classifies them as a species of least concern but warns that deforestation and development could move them to near-threatened status.
Thumbnail: Photography ©johan10 | Getty Images.
Kim Campbell Thornton has been writing about cats and dogs for 32 years. She is the award-winning author of more than two dozen books and hundreds of articles on pet care, health and behavior.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Catster magazine delivered straight to you!