According to experts, a third of the world’s felines live on our continent, and they are present in all types of ecosystems: from humid jungles to temperate and cold forests.
Felines are some of the most fascinating animals in nature. From the common cat to the big cats, their character, their fur and their hunting skills have fascinated many people, from biologists to poets, and there is no doubt that these species still have many things to discover.
The origin of felines dates back more than 50 million years, when the canine and feline lineage split to give rise to these two groups. Between 20 and 16 million years ago, the first true feline appeared, called Pseudaelurus , from which the saber-toothed tigers, extinct 9,400 years ago, and the other current felines descended.
According to experts, a third of the world’s felines live in the American continent, of which five are tropical: the jaguar, ocelot, margay, margay and jaguarundi ; six are related to temperate or cold sites: Canadian lynx, wild cat, Andean cat, cat of the bush, cat of the güiña and cat of the pampas; and one more, the cougar, is found in all kinds of environments.
However, the felines of the continent are in serious danger, and several of them are even in danger of extinction. Gerardo Ceballos and Rurik List, in the book The Felines of America , mention that their presence indicates that an ecosystem is reasonably well preserved , and that conservation efforts help many other species.
“We cannot even imagine what a world would be like without the presence of jaguars, ocelots or pumas, in which vast regions of forests and jungles remain eternally profoundly silent due to the absence of these wonderful species. It is our duty to ensure that they survive the ravages of these times, which entail great challenges for the conservation of nature ”.
What are some of the most famous feline inhabitants of the continent?
The jaguar, god of the jungles
Among the thick jungles of Central America, the jaguar has stood out as one of its most captivating inhabitants. In Mexico, the ancient pre-Hispanic settlers felt fear and veneration for him. For the Mayans, he was a god of the underworld. For the Aztecs, the god Tezcatlipoca.
The jaguar is the largest and most powerful predator in the tropics. With its strength it is capable of bringing down prey weighing up to 300 kilograms, such as tapirs and domestic cattle. It eats especially mammals, but also birds, reptiles and marine animals.
Until the beginning of the 20th century, jaguars inhabited a vast territory that went from Arizona and New Mexico to the jungles of Misiones in northern Argentina. However, deforestation and human intervention have reduced their habitat and undermined their populations. The jaguar is currently in the category of “near threatened” on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In Mexico it is listed as an endangered species and its hunting has been prohibited since 1987.
The puma, master of the entire continent
From the forests of the great parks of the United States and Canada, to the cold mountains of southern Chile , no other feline has such a large distribution, nor has it been able to adapt to as many ecosystems as the puma. Its name comes from the Quechua language and means “powerful”, and it couldn’t be more appropriate.
By its very extension, the puma has adapted its diet to the spaces in which it lives. In North America, its main prey is deer, and it competes with other animals such as coyotes or bears for food. In South America, its prey is vicuñas and vizcachas, and it usually lives in higher altitude areas.
Although in Mexico it is not registered as an endangered species, it is subject to various regulations. Special permits are required for hunting and export. In the United States, some subspecies of cougars are threatened and others have directly become extinct, as is the case of the North American eastern cougar (Puma concolor couguar).
The wild cat, inhabitant of the cold
Not everything is big cats when we talk about the variety of these animals in the American continent. There are also medium-sized felines that live in the cold and temperate forests of the continent, often living closely with humans, and also at risk due to their activity.
The wild cat, also known as the red lynx, is distributed from the cold and arid regions of southern Canada, almost the entire territory of the United States of America, to Oaxaca in southern Mexico; in this wide region it can be found in very different environments, from coniferous and oak forests to xerophytic thickets, grasslands and deserts. It is a medium-sized feline, weighing about 10 kilograms, with characteristic pointed ears with brushes at the tip.
The bobcat’s diet consists primarily of rabbits and hares, but it also consumes rats, mice, birds, and small reptiles. And although it is not exactly in danger of extinction, the reduction of its habitats and human activity means that its existence is increasingly threatened.