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Quest for the strangest cat in the world!

Quest for the strangest cat in the world!

If there is one cat that doesn’t look like a cat at first glance it’s the jaguarundi. Because of the longish head with elongated body and short legs this cat appears more like a mustelid than a cat. Still it really is a cat and if you manage to find a flattering picture of it a pretty cute one too! This cat is quite widespread in Latin-America but it is nowhere easy to see. Some areas offer higher chances then others, but often seeing a jaguarundi is a chance encounter and most of the time they are seen crossing the road in front of the car.

When I did a big South-America trip in 2019, I had done some research on this cat and it seemed like it was fairy regularly reported in the Kaa Lya Park in Bolivia. Sadly back then it did not fit my budget because I was already doing a big trip. However I had a nice time in the Barba Azul Reserve and you can’t have it all. Still I kept an eye on tripreports from Bolivia and then a very interesting place popped up. Jaguarland or La Moneda Reserve appeared to be a very special place. There jaguars, jaguarundi’s and ocelots were seen in just a few days! Apart from that often a strong ‘supporting cast’ was reported of other iconic South-American mammals like Brazilian Tapir, Marsh Deer, Neotropical Otter, Tayra and others. So this area remained in the back of my head, but I also had some other plans. When my planned trip this fall last minute couldn’t go on because of Covid I was immediately thinking of Bolivia as well as Ecuador. So I got in touch again with Nick McPhee whom I also met in 2019 and he was able to quickly put together a 5-day trip to Jaguarland. So that’s what I was going to do!

After a two-week trip through Ecuador with a Spectacled Bear as highlight it was time for two weeks Bolivia. The plan was to go for 5 days to Jaguarland first and then use the other days for birding. However a problem emerged, which was that a paro would start on my first day in Bolivia. A paro is a strike during which people not only stop working but also erect blockades so nobody can go through anymore. So the plan to go immediately to Jaguarland after my arrival at the airport did not go through. So in the middle of the night I arrived at the airport in Santa Cruz. There I took a taxi from the airport to my hotel. The drive drove through all the outskirts of Santa Cruz in order to avoid the blockades. In the end we managed to arrive safely at my hotel. The next day everything was firmly shut down so I had to stay for a day in the centre of Santa Cruz.

The day after we would attempt to leave early in the morning at 3 o’clock. However de blockades were persistent and the drunk people standing on them were not in a mood to do some cooperative thinking. We made another attempt at 5.30. The blockades turned out to be temporarily lifted in order to give everyone the chance to do some grocery shopping. Still we weren’t at ease at some blockades turned out to be hard to pass, but it went fairly alright. After a few hours driving we arrived at our last blockade, but we couldn’t pass that one. Luckily there was a dirt road that we could use to drive around it. The local farmers used the opportunity to erect a few blockades themselves and make a few extra bucks. Still early in the afternoon we arrived at Jaguarland! We would stay here for a while so the paro wouldn’t bother us for the time being.

It had been quite a strenuous day already, but we immediately went out to search. You’ve got to use all the time you have of course. Jaguarland quickly turned out to be a kind of place I had never been to. Rather low forest bordered on pieces of savanna crossed by canals and ditches and also a part of the area was used to grow soy. Immediately I noticed the large numbers of herons consisting of all kinds of species. There were also a lot of Snail Kites around. Apart from that sometimes groups of Guans would walk around on the ground. A group of birds that up until now I had known as shy and secretive forest birds. However I did not give the birds much attention this time because there were other goals! Later on the afternoon we saw our first good mammal: Giant Anteater! This was not a new one for me, but of course it was nice to see this species again after two years!

A little while later we discover howler monkeys in a tree. We stop to take pictures.

Then it turns out there is a Black Spider Monkey among them! This spider monkey had been seen earlier by Nick and I was already surprised by this sighting because it seemed like this area would not be a very suitable habitat for this species. Still I’m really glad I have it. In Peru I had already hoped to see this species, but there they had disappeared from the part of rainforest where I was. Spider monkeys prefer undisturbed rainforest. That’s why it’s not strange to see one hanging at the edge of a low forest that borders on a savanna. At least that one is in the pocket now!

The rest of the afternoon went without too much excitement. We do see several Marsh Deer which is also a new species for me.

Dusk sets in a bit already, but especially then sometimes something good can turn up. When we stop for a second to look a bit better at a Rufescent Tiger Heron, I suddenly see something dark moving behind it. That can still be a lot of things, but the car that was just going again stops again to a allow us to check it out. Then the animal gets more in the open and that is a Jaguarundi! The engine is turned off while the Jaguarundi walks towards us on the road.

At a certain moment it leaps into the tall gras, but it doesn’t manage to catch a mouse.

Of course we hope it will get really close to us, but that seems like asking too much of this animal. The cat stops at a certain point and stares at us intensely for a few seconds unmoving. Then he turns around and runs away.

Still I am very glad I managed to see my main target so well. Seeing a Jaguarundi hunting is something not many people have been able to see! Taking pictures was a challenge at this distance, but luckily I have some stuff that is sharp. In any case it is a very nice start of my time in Jaguarland: on to the next one!

 

The next target actually comes faster than I had expected because on a short night drive that same day an ocelot suddenly leaps in front of the car and runs in front of us! My second cat, but I hope I will get a better sighting of this one!

LennartVerheuvel

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