The federal government has established a recovery plan for the jaguarundi, almost four decades since the small wildcat was listed as an endangered species and almost three decades since one was confirmed in the U.S.
But don’t expect to see the reddish brown or grey feline returning to what remains of the thick brush in South Texas anytime soon. The plan recently approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is heavy on additional research and habitat restoration but is not especially optimistic about its prospects for success.
The jaguarundi, a bit bigger than the average house cat, had much of its preferred thorn scrub habitat cleared long ago in Texas for agriculture and more recently for development in the rapidly growing border region. The cats still prowl in northeast Mexico, where much of the research would take place.
“There’s just not a whole lot of information on the jaguarundi,” said Taylor Jones of the nonprofit WildEarth Guardians, which sued and reached a settlement with the government that called for the recovery plan. She hopes the plan will spark new research, and in the near term contribute to additional efforts to conserve and restore the cat’s habitat. “You certainly couldn’t bring them back if they didn’t have any place to live.”
It’s not clear how many jaguarundis existed when the species was first listed as endangered in 1976, but it was determined they were in decline because of habitat destruction. The last confirmed sighting of a jaguarundi in the U.S. was a dead one on a road outside Brownsville in 1986. Before that, the last was seen in 1969.
Lesli Gray, a spokeswoman for the federal wildlife agency, said there is no guarantee funding will exist to meet the agency’s goals, but at least a plan has been developed that outlines what is needed to delist the species or at least improve its population.
The plan calls for spending more than $7 million in each of the first two years. Under a fully funded plan, the jaguarundi could be downlisted by 2040 if three or more established populations are found with a total of at least 250 cats. The species could be delisted 10 years later.
I have no idea how well this will work, but I wish them the best of luck. Loss of habitat is a tough thing for a lot of species to overcome. The Center for Biological Diversity has more.