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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 appear to be 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 than others, but seeing a jaguarundi is often a chance encounter and most of the time they are just 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 to go there 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. Jaguars, jaguarundi’s and ocelots were all seen there regularly on trips that lasted 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 this fall my planned trip couldn’t go on at the last minute 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 started 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 anywhere with the car anymore. So the plan to go immediately to Jaguarland after my arrival at the airport did not happen.

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 driver 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 3.00. However the 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 as 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! At least during our stay here the paro wouldn’t bother us.

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. A large part of it was low forest bordering 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 out 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 only 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!

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 discovered howler monkeys in a tree. We stopped to take pictures.

Bolivian Red Howler

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 seen 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 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!

Black Spider Monkey

The rest of the afternoon passed by without too much excitement. Dusk had set in a bit already, but especially then 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 pulling up 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 he leaps into the tall gras, but 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!

That same evening we go out and we see an Ocelot running away from us. This is also a new cat for me, but we will try to see that one better.


A Great Potoo is always a treat and a nice bird to finish the evening.

Great Potoo


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