NATURE NARRATIVES: A jaguarundi cat sighting

By Melissa Walker
       Driving north over Poncha Pass between the San Luis Valley and the upper Arkansas River near Salida, Colorado, my husband and I saw a gray wildcat run across Highway 285. I immediately realized that I was looking at a mammal that I'd never seen before in my life. The wildcat was only about 50 yards in front of our car, and we watched it for several seconds before it disappeared down a ravine. The cat was medium gray in color, not as tall as a bobcat, and had a long tail. I had no doubt that it was in the cat family, but it ran with a clunky gait on relatively short legs and had a squarish head. I suspected that it was a Jaguarundi, a wildcat that I'd only seen in field guides. I checked the car's clock - it was 11:10 a.m.
       Upon consulting the jaguarundi page in my Peterson's Field Guide to Mammals of North America, the photo and information exactly matched the wildcat we had seen on Poncha Pass. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's website, the Jaguarundi's short legs, elongated body and long tail resembles an otter, so the animals are sometimes called "otter cats." The wildcats mainly hunt during the day, with peak activity at midday. Sightings of Jaguarundis have been confirmed in Florida and southern Texas.
       Jaguarundis are primarily wildcats of South and Central America, and are considered very rare north of Mexico. However, between Colorado's San Luis Valley, southern Texas, and Mexico, natural lands dominate the landscape, with few cities or towns. Could Jaguarundis be extending their range northward during recent years of mild winter weather?
       I called the Colorado Division of Wildlife and talked with John Koshak, a wildlife expert. He checked with the state's wildlife biologists, but neither John nor the biologists had ever heard of any sightings of a Jaguarundi in Colorado. John suggested the possibility that a Jaguarundi could have been brought to Colorado and released. We'll never know.
       I didn't have enough time to take a photo of the Jaguarundi, so it can't be listed as an official sighting, but I'm hoping that someone else in the Poncha Pass area will see the wildcat and report it. Or, maybe a Jaguarundi will make its way to the Pikes Peak Region and we'll add a new mammal to our checklists.

Walker, a long-time area naturalist, posts regular entries in her online blog at naturenarratives.com. She has given her permission to reprint selected pieces in the Westside Pioneer.