In Mexico, mistaking an injured margay for a jaguar is still nothing to treat lightly

IFAW’s DVM Erika Flores providing emergency assistance to the margay.It was the middle of December around 7 pm, and I was heading to a meeting when I received a call from Erika Flores telling me someone had called her claiming a small jaguar was hit by a car and needed medical assistance. 

I couldn’t believe it was a jaguar, and neither did Erika, as sadly there are very few left in this region. Jaguars are very shy and tend to stay away from people.

But despite our skepticism we were concerned about how we were going to handle it if it really was a jaguar!

The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in theWestern Hemisphere, so even a “small” jaguar can be quite big.

To give you an idea, jaguar’s weights are normally in the range of 56 – 96 kg (124–211 lb, although larger males have been recorded to weigh as much as 160 kg (350 lb).

We drove to “Castillo Canino,” the Veterinary Hospital where the animal was taken by the rescuer and when we arrived we discovered that fortunately the cat was not a jaguar, but unfortunately it was another feline on the brink of extinction - a margay (Leopardus wiedii),locally known as “tigrillo”.

Margays are commonly confused with ocelots, but can be distinguished by their longer tails.  Even though their size and weight is similar to domestic cats, margays are extremely strong and agile and can do a lot of harm if feel threatened. 

So we needed to be very careful!

Since the margay is an endangered species we notified the Federal Authorities as required by law, and temporary custody of the animal was given to Erika as she is a veterinarian for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Erika agreed to temporarily keep the little cat until she got better.

The margay was beautiful, but also in shock having been hit by a car. One of her eyes was out of place and she needed critical care. 

The margay was hospitalized in Erika’s office (in our house) so she could check on her many times throughout the day and night.

X-rays were taken that revealed the margay also had a fracture in her hip, but after an assessment with other experienced veterinarians, it was decided that the fracture could heal by itself and the only surgery performed was to remove her eye.

The margay fully recovered from the eye surgery and ready to go to the Federal Facility.The surgery was a success and the margay ended up staying for 2 weeks in the house to recover.

During those weeks, Erika’s office became a closed area to avoid interaction with humans or domestic animals.

It’s funny though, we usually can’t foster cats -not even tiny kittens- because one of our cats get particularly crazy and stressed, but with the margay she was as if nothing was happening. She is clever and knows she can’t mess with a margay!

As soon as she got better, we followed the authority’s instructions and took the Margay to a Federal facility 5 hours from Playa del Carmen, where she was going to continue her recovery in an independent enclosure with local vegetation and away from any rural or urban area.

These felines are so rare that you must to do all you can to save them.  Even with just one eye, the margay Erika cured had a good chance of successfully returning to the wild – thriving and breeding.  So the weeks on in-home care were certainly worth it.

I am very happy to share that we were notified that after more than a month of recovery at the Federal Facility, the margay was released back to her habitat, so the effort was definitely worth it!

--JT

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