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Norwich Bulletin - 3/14/2010

Another Kind Of Cat

I always feel I know so much about cats and then one day I am blown away to discover a cat I never heard of and that is actually an American animal! The Jaguarondi is a remarkable cat that can be found in lowland forests of South and parts of North America; as far north as Texas.

For many years this strange looking cat like creature was considered to actually be a different species, but recent genetic testing has confirmed that they are part of the feline population.

The Jaguarondi has many peculiar characteristics as it appears to be totally out of proportion and being very different from the other members of the feline order. It has a very long and thick neck with a head that is flattened in profile. It’s nose is very thick and rather stout with a receding chin.

The ear set is close against the head and they are short and rounded, giving them a weasel like look at first. Sometimes they are mistaken for otters. Especially different is that there are no facial markings on the Jaguarondi and this makes them from all cats in general.

Their feet are small and compact, the hind legs much longer than the forward pair. In walking the back is arched, the head carried low, the long, thick tail dragging the ground. The nostrils are set wide apart, giving the nose a thick, fleshy appearance unlike that of other cats. In fact it’s hard to even envision a cat when you look at the Jaguarondi.

They kind of look like the caveman of cats. There are two young cats in the Washington Zoological Park, one reddish brown and the other gray. They are very catlike in their traits – stealthy and quiet most of the time and they don’t like visitors. The general consensus is that they are not that bright and so that is why I liken them to the primitive caveman of old.

They are not very big for being in the large cat family; in fact, most of our Maine Coons far outweigh them. The get to be about sixteen pounds at adult size with a body about 26 inches long – it’s the 18 inch tail that gives them the appearance of being bigger.

The bright reddish brown color, shades to white on their undersides – perhaps it is the natural version of a hot ticked ruddy? They also have a brown-gray color that would liken to a cold ruddy, without that warm burst of red color.

This cat hunts by night or early morning. Though their legs are short, they are fast runners and can go up to a mile without stopping. Unlike most cats, it does not stalk its prey, but rather chases it. While it will spend most of its time on the ground, they can climb trees.

They eat small mammals like rabbits and mice, but interestingly enough, they will eat fruit, although certainly not their first choice on the dinner menu!

Despite its size, you would certainly never mistake a Jaguarondi for a housecat. Of course you would first have to actually see one. The “leoncillo” (Spanish for little lion as it is called in South America), is a solitary cat that is very elusive. In fact, the Jaguarondi lives alone unless courting a mate.

It rarely will come out into the open so it is difficult to obtain a lot of information about this cat. And they are seldom seen by humans and much of what is written comes from historical reports.

Despite their elusiveness, destruction of their habitat is reducing the number of Jaguarondis in the wild and they are on the list of most endangered animals. I thought I should write about them before they are gone forever.

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