The Jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi) is a small-sized wild cat native to Central and South America. In 2002, the IUCN classified the jaguarundi as Least Concern as it is likely that no conservation units, with the probable exception of the mega-reserves of the Amazon basin could sustain long-term viable populations.
In terms of physical appearance, the jaguarundi is perhaps the least cat-like of all the cats. It has a total length of 53 to 77 cm (21 to 30 in), not including the 31 to 60 cm (12 to 24 in) tail, and weighs 3.5 to 9.1 kg (7.7 to 20 lb). It has short legs, an elongated body and a long tail, giving it an appearance somewhat like an otter or marten.
For this reason, these animals are sometimes referred to as “otter cats.” The ears are short and rounded. The coat is unspotted and uniform in colour, with, at most, a few faint markings on the face and underside. The coat can be either blackish to brownish grey (grey phase) or foxy red to chestnut (red phase); individuals of both phases can be born in the same litter.
Its habitat is lowland brush areas close to a source of running water, and may include anything from dry thorn forest to wet grassland. While commonly found in the lowlands, they have been reported at elevations as high as 3,200 metres (10,500 ft).
Jaguarundis also occasionally inhabit dense tropical areas. They are comfortable in trees, but prefer to hunt on the ground. They will eat almost any small animal that they can catch, typically catching a mixture of rodents, small reptiles, and ground-feeding birds. They have also been observed to kill larger prey, such as rabbits, and opossums; relatively unusual prey includes fish and even marmosets. Like many other cats they also include a small amount of vegetation and arthropods in their diet.
Although they seem to be somewhat more gregarious than many other cats, willing to tolerate the close presence of other members of their species, in the wild they are generally encountered alone, suggesting a solitary lifestyle. Their home range is widely variable, depending on the local environment; individuals have been reported as ranging over territories of anything from 6.8 to 100 square kilometres (2.6 to 39 sq mi).
Like other cats, they scent mark their territory by scratching the ground or nearby branches, head-rubbing, urination, and leaving their faeces uncovered. They are shy and reclusive, and evidently very cautious of man-made traps.
Jaguarundis make an unusually wide range of vocalisations, including purrs, whistles, yaps, chattering sounds, and even a bird-like chirp. The timing of the breeding season among jaguarundis is unclear; it may be that they breed all year round. Oestrus lasts three to five days, and is marked by the female regularly rolling onto her back and spraying urine. After a gestation period of 70 to 75 days, the female gives birth to a litter of one to four kittens in a den constructed in a dense thicket, hollow tree, or similar cover.
The kittens are born with spots on their underside, which disappear as they age. They are capable of taking solid food at around six weeks, although they begin to play with their mother’s food as early as three weeks. Jaguarundis become sexually mature at approximately two years of age, and have lived for up to 10 years in captivity.
This cat is closely related to the much larger and heavier cougar as evident by its similar genetic structure and chromosome count; both species are in the genus Puma although it is sometimes classified under a separate genus, Herpailurus and until recently, both cats were classified under the genus Felis.
According to a 2006 genomic study of Felidae, an ancestor of today’s Leopardus, Lynx, Puma, Prionailurus, and Felis lineages migrated across the Bering land bridge into the Americas approximately 8 to 8.5 million years ago. The lineages subsequently diverged in that order.
Studies have indicated that the cougar and jaguarundi are next most closely related to the modern cheetah of Africa and western Asia, but the relationship is unresolved. It has been suggested that ancestors of the cheetah diverged from the Puma lineage in the Americas and migrated back to Asia and Africa, while other research suggests the cheetah diverged in the Old World itself.
This cat is not particularly sought after for its fur, but it is suffering decline due to loss of habitat. The jaguarundi has been sighted around the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana. (Source: Wikipedia – The Free Online Encyclopedia)
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