Are There Wild Cats in New Mexico? What to Know!
The land of enchantment may look rugged and barren in places, but those who appreciate its beauty know it’s full of life. Driving along a darkened road or camping deep in the Animas Mountains, you might catch a glimpse of a cat that looks too big to be a cat. That’s not surprising—although you don’t see them often, New Mexico is home to several species of wild cats. Here are the species you can look out for if you want to see a wild cat in New Mexico.
Bobcats are the most common wild cat in the United States—they are found in nearly every part of the country and have even started penetrating suburbs and cities. They have reddish-brown or reddish-gray fur with small black spots speckling it. They also have small tufts of fur on their ears. The “bob” in bobcat comes from its tail, much shorter than a domestic cat’s tail. Although these tails haven’t been cut or bobbed, you can see why they stand out. Bobcats are bigger than domestics, usually about 20–30 pounds, so roughly twice the size of a healthy cat. From a distance, they can look similar, but between their spotted fur, their tufted ears, their large size, and their tails, it’s usually easy to identify one if you get a good look.
Although you might mistake a bobcat for a house cat, you’ll never make that mistake with a cougar. These cats, also known as pumas, mountain lions, and a host of other names, can reach over six feet in length and up to about 250 pounds. With their tawny tan fur and robust frames, they look intimidating and have a hair-raising scream as well.
Cougars once lived everywhere from coast to coast, but today most cougars live in or west of the Rockies. They still can be found in New Mexico, though. Cougars are often seen in rural areas, where they can endanger livestock, pets, and humans. Although it is rare for a cougar to attack or kill a human, it’s important to exercise caution if you see one in the wild. If you do see one, don’t approach it or run away. Instead, make loud noises to frighten it away.
Lynxes once were common in New Mexico, but today, they are virtually nonexistent. These cats are usually only found along the border with Colorado, where Lynxes have been reintroduced. Although they haven’t been reintroduced to New Mexico, the occasional lynx will wander down, so it is possible to see one. Lynxes are beautiful cats with short, bobbed tails, and tufted ears. These cats are similar enough to their cousin, the bobcat, that it can be hard to tell them apart at a glance.
But if you get a good look, you’ll spot a few differences. Lynxes tend to look more exotic than bobcats, with bigger tufts on the ears and shaggier jowls. They also have longer legs and larger feet, made for walking in snowy conditions. The biggest giveaway is the tail—bobcats have dark stripes all along their short tail, with a white underside. Lynxes’ tails aren’t generally striped—instead, the tip of the tail is dark black.
Could Jaguars Come Back to New Mexico?
Jaguars might call to mind humid jungles in South America, but did you know that they used to roam New Mexico too? America’s only big cat once hunted throughout much of the Southern US, but by the middle of the 20th century, they’d been driven out of New Mexico by hunting and habitat loss.
However, if you want to see one in the wild, you may not have to travel. In 2021, a study suggested that Jaguars could be introduced to about 2 million acres of New Mexico and Arizona land. That land could hold up to 150 cats. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has shown interest in reintroducing these cats to New Mexico as part of their endangered species program. Perhaps one day soon, the cougar won’t be the biggest cat around.
New Mexico is one of the wildest states in the US, and many species depend on its wilderness areas. Cougars, bobcats, and lynxes all play key parts in a healthy ecosystem, and conservation efforts shouldn’t be underestimated. Because these cats are mostly nocturnal, they can be tricky to spot. If you happen to see one, count yourself lucky.
Featured Image Credit: LocoLocal, Pixabay