The Jaguarundi is amongst the most unusual of cat species in the New World, being rather weasel-like in its looks. Its body is slender and long, with a small flattened head, short legs, a long tail and short rounded ears. The species has two main color morphs: one being dark, i.e. uniform black, gray or brownish, sometimes a little lighter on the undersides, and a red morph, which can vary from tawny yellow to a bright chestnut red. Due to looking like a weasel, the dark morph jaguarundi will often be mistaken for the tayra, which is a large mustelid, but it lacks the tayra’s yellowish spot on the throat, and has a very long, thin tail and very short hair.
The jaguarondi is widely distributed throughout North, Central and South America, ranging from southern Texas to as far south as northern Argentina. It occurs in a wide range of open as well as closed habitats, such as rainforest, thickets, savanna, swamp and savanna woodland, as well as semi-arid thorn scrub. It may also live in secondary vegetation and areas that have been disturbed, but is believed to prefer areas that have at least some thick ground cover.
Jaguarundis are very secretive animals. They were once thought to be solitary apart from during the mating season. Recent sightings of pairs suggest they could be more social than has been thought. Pairs are frequently sighted in Paraguay, but in Mexico individuals are thought to be solitary. These animals are mostly diurnal, with most of their activity taking place at about 11 in the morning. Jaguarundis are terrestrial creatures but are good climbers as well as swimmers. They are often seen up in trees. Jaguarundis are quite vocal, with at least 13 different calls having been recorded, including a purr, scream, whistle, chatter, yap, and a “chirp” like a bird. Mothers will often call to their kittens with a brief purr, the kittens answering with a series of short peeps. In warning, a jaguarundi will hiss loudly and/or spit.
Jaguarundis are polygynous, which means that one male gets exclusive mating rights with multiple females. Breeding may take place at any time of the year. In Mexico, the mating season is during November and December. The animals construct dens, typically in dense thickets or hollow logs. Litters are between one to four kittens, born after a gestation time from 63 to 75 days. Kittens are weaned when about 2 months old, then their mother teaches them how to hunt and look after themselves. She protects them and will move her den when disturbed. Independence comes at around 10 months of age and sexual maturity is reached at about 2 - 3 years old.
The numbers of jaguarundis are decreasing every day, due to the loss of its natural habitat, deforestation and expanding cities. Jaguarundis are hunted by farmers because they eat their poultry, and they are sometimes caught accidentally in traps laid for other animals.
According to the IUCN Red List, research indicates that the Jaguarundi is an uncommon, low density species. It is considered Near Threatened in Argentina and Threatened in Mexico. But globally, it is classified as Least Concern (LC) with decreasing population trend.