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Jaguarundi sightings reported near Ruidoso

A Gulf Coast jaguarundi. (Courtesy of USFWS)

RUIDOSO – The caves around Ranches of Sonterra may be harboring a jaguarundi, a small wild cat native to South America and southern North American.

Rex Hill, who owns a home in the development north of Ruidoso off Airport Road, said he thinks one visited his backyard and that neighbor Norm Ackerman and his son have also seen the same animal based on mutual descriptions.

“I’m not really a person who knows a whole lot about wildlife, and I’m not 100 percent sure about what I saw,” said Hill, who bought his home four years ago. “I had been having some trouble with rock squirrels and bought one of these small cages and was putting bird seed and things like that in it … One afternoon, I had caught a bird, which I did occasionally, usually Mexican jays or something similar.

“I looked out about 3 p.m., and there was something messing around with the cage with the bird in it. Initially, I thought it was a gray fox, because we had some living down the hill. But then I realized it was bigger than a gray fox and had to be something else.”

The animal spun the trap several times trying to reach the bird, but by the time Hill returned with a cellphone to snap a photograph, the animal was already walking up the hill.

When he posted his encounter, Ackerman suggested that the creature was more likely a jaguarundi.

Larry Cordova, a wildlife biologist with the Smokey Bear Ranger District of the Lincoln National Forest, said jaguarundi have been seen in Texas and southern Arizona.

“I’ve received some reports,” he said. “Off Forest Road 43, which I though was kind of curious, about six years ago and haven’t heard anything since. It was never verified, but the person was a forest service employee, so it’s possible, because they are found in Texas.”

Descriptions of a jaguarundi include short legs, an elongated body, a long tail, short-rounded ears, a coat without spots and uniform in color, possibly a few faint markings on the face and underside.

The coat ranges from blackish to brownish-gray, or even foxy red to chestnut in the same family. They weigh from 10 to 20 pounds.

They have been reported in elevations as high as 10,500 feet. They’ve also been sighted in Florida.

A feature that distinguishes them from bobcats and other more nocturnal felines is that they are active primarily during the day. They are comfortable in trees but prefer to hunt on ground.

They will eat any small animal, rodents, reptiles and ground-feeding birds, sometimes larger prey such as rabbits and fish with a light touch of vegetation in their diets.