The jaguarundi is like the weird-looking kid in high school who never spoke to anyone and avoided all the cliques. (Cough). It has a bit of an identity crisis, and unlike the scientific community, it doesn’t care.

For instance, it looks like an otter, but it’s a cat, and has no fewer than three Latin names while we figure out what kind. And despite being a cat, it enjoys swimming and is most active during the day, possibly to avoid all the others. What’s more, it’s a ground-based predator, but has no qualms about cavorting in trees or leaping 2 metres high to catch a bird.  It takes a scattergun approach to its digs too: forests, open grassland, and places that have lost or are about to feel the cold concrete touch of humans can all be homely to a jaguarundi. While this makes it easy to spot, it can be a problem.

South America’s “otter-cat” can seem common when the opposite might be true. The IUCN Red List of Endangered Species has it pegged as “Least Concern”, but this translates to “Least Interest”, because there are so few studies about it. Even the locals are hazy: in a 2014 survey of Brazilian school children, only a third had a clue what it was. It used to roam the southern United States too, but is extinct in Texas, and rumours of an escaped feral population in Florida are unconfirmed (but awesome). Then again, its bizarre looks have offered it some protection.

Not from wonky artistry, though.

Unlike jaguars, pumas and ocelots – the popular cliques, if you will – the jaguarundi has been ignored by the fur trade because of its coarse and spotless coat. It does have three outfits though: sunset orange, known as “eyra”, frosty charcoal, and melanistic (black). Finding all three in one litter is common, so if the male stuck around to see his kids, he wouldn’t curse in all 14 vocalisations and give the milkman a suspicious look. It’s not clear how long kittens hang around Mum either, since although jaguarundis are considered loners, they’ve been spotted hunting in pairs. Aside from habitat loss (of course), hunting is the main threat, because they often cross farmers for a chicken dinner. They’re known to cross other things as well.

In another testament to its popularity, the most famous specimen had crossed eyes, and even he barely generated news. “Frank”, a 14 year-old male in Berlin Zoo and at the time the oldest in Europe, was being groomed as the “next big thing” after 2011’s internet “star” Heidi, the cross-eyed possum. So the most well-known jaguarundi just jumped on another animal’s bandwagon, and by now it’s safe to say Hollywood isn’t picking up the phone.

Then again, it takes a lot of cunning to stay under the radar while lurking near humans. So perhaps it’s using mind control to divert our attention? Well, it is a cat, so that’s entirely possible.


Latin: As above, it has three: Herpailurus yagouaroundi,  Felis yagouaroundi, and Puma yagouaroundi . Before we realised the “eyra” version was the same species, there was also Eyra yagouaroundi, so technically it’s had four!

What? A small wild cat that looks like an otter.

Where? Central and South America.

How big? 30 cm/12 ” high, 76 cm/30 ” long

Endangered?  The scientific community currently says “I ‘unno”, but it’s listed as “extinct” in the US, “critically endangered” in Costa Rica and “least concern” almost everywhere else.

Probable motto: Being mysterious and weird-looking has its perks.

They sound cool. Do they need my help at all?

As usual their habitat is under threat, so these organisations might help:

Rainforest Alliance

World Land Trust

Just to prove I’m not fibbing

Dell’Amore, Christine. 2017. “Out of the shadows, the wildcats you’ve never seen“. National Geographic.

Dickerson, Kelly. 2014. “The endangered jaguarundi is coming back to Texas.” Business Insider.

Futral, Malisa. 2013. “Jaguarundi – the otter cat“. Alabama Forestry Commission.

Giordano, Anthony J. 2015. “Ecology and status of the jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi): A synthesis of existing knowledge”. Mammal ReviewDOI: 10.1111/mam.12051

Herpailurus yagouaroundi“. No date. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 

Jaguarondi (Geoffroy 1803) – Puma yagouaroundi”. No date. Futura Planète [in French].

Jaguarundi.” 2016. International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada.

The Jaguarundi. (Herpailurus yagouaroundi)“. No date. The Belize Zoo.

Jaguarundi“. No date.

Jaguarundi. Puma yagouaroundi“. No date. Lamar University.

Jaguarundi“. No date. Species Survival Commission: Cat Specialist Group.

Jaguarundi facts“. 2015. Big Cat Rescue.

Malherbe, L., and Seibold, K. 2011. “Zoo prepares cross-eyed cat for celebrity“. Reuters.

Porfirio, Grasiela, Sarmento, Pedro, and Fonseca, Carlos. 2014. “Schoolchildren’s Knowledge and Perceptions of Jaguars, Pumas, and Smaller Cats Around a Mosaic of Protected Areas in the Western Brazilian Pantanal”. Applied Environmental Education & Communication, 13:241–249

Selby, Christina. 2015. “‘Mystery cat’ requires more conservation and research“. Mongabay.

Featured image credit: “Jaguarundi in der Tierauffangstation in Costa Rica” by photography-wildlife-de